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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Exploring participant appreciation of group-based principles for action in community-based physical activity programs for socially vulnerable groups in the Netherlands

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
Marion Herens, Annemarie Wagemakers, Lenneke Vaandrager, Maria Koelen
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s12889-015-2515-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Marion Herens, Annemarie Wagemakers and Lenneke Vaandrager contributed equally to this work.

Competing interests

The authors declare that there are no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

MH developed the design and coordinated the study, carried out data collection and drafted the manuscript. MH and AW performed the qualitative analysis. AW, LV and MK conceived the study, participated in its design and coordination, and helped to draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Physical inactivity is a core risk factor for non-communicable diseases. In the Netherlands, socially vulnerable groups are relatively less active than groups with higher socio-economic status. Community-based health-enhancing physical activity (CBHEPA) programs aim to empower socially vulnerable groups by improving participants’ health and wellbeing through physical activity. CBHEPA programs often revolve around group-based principles for action, such as active participation, enjoyment, and fostering group processes. As such principles are rarely made explicit, our study aims to identify which of the group-based principles for action are considered important by participants.


Respondents (n = 76) from ten focus groups scored their individual appreciation of group-based principles for action – active participation, enjoyment, and fostering group processes – on a three-point, statement-based scale. Opinions were further discussed in the focus group. Focus group discussions were transcribed and analysed by a team of investigators. The coding procedures, identifying elements appreciated in group-based principles for action, were thematic and data driven.


Statements about participatory programming generated much less consensus in appreciation among respondents than statements about enjoyment and fostering group processes. To some extent, group members participated in the development of program content. Participation in group formation or community initiatives was less frequently perceived as something within group members’ control. Enjoyment, expressed as physical and emotional experiences, was found to be an individual driver of group exercise. Fostering group processes, expressed as social support, was found to contribute to enjoyment and learning achievements. Responsive leadership, ensuring responsive guidance, by an enthusiastic exercise trainer acting as a role model, were identified as additional necessary principles for action.


Group-based principles for action in CBHEPA programs are not clearly demarcated. Fostering group processes is an overarching principle, conditional for the spin-off in terms of enjoyment and active participation. This, in turn, leads to a sense of ownership among participants, who take up responsibility for the exercise group as well as their individual activity behaviour. CBHEPA programs thrive on participants having fun together and exercise trainers’ leadership skills. A professional, competent, responsive exercise trainer plays a key role in the organisation and maintenance of CBHEPA programs.
Additional file 1: Descriptives of focus group respondents. (DOCX 15 kb)
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