April 15

A glorious failure: recruiting pregnant women for physical activity research in primary care

Canadian Medical Association Journal: April 13, 2015

Editor’s note: This post is based on a presentation to the Association of University Departments of General Practice in Ireland, at Queen’s University, Belfast.

As a GP research registrar embarking on developing my first research project, I didn’t think I was going to change the world, but I hoped that I could, perhaps, influence a few. Obesity is a major global problem and maternal obesity is rising in addition to that of the general population. My aim was to change the health behaviour of the expectant mother.....  read more

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PhD Opportunity - Increasing physical activity in teenagers: a social network-enabled intervention


The physical inactivity ‘pandemic’ is believed to be responsible for up to 10% of all deaths from non-communicable diseases1,2 and is associated with significant economic costs3. Research has also shown a strong association between physical inactivity and the significantly rising rates of obesity. The UK Chief Medical Officers’ recent report on physical activity4 has again highlighted the considerable expected benefits to public health if we meet the physical activity guidelines. A recent study reported that only 24% of children in the UK aged 5-15 years met these recommendations, which is significantly lower in girls (19%) than boys (29%).5 Further, physical activity in adolescence declines by 7% per year,6 suggesting an overall decline of 60-70% during the 10-19 years old period.7 Physical activity habits formed at this crucial time can often be lifelong and could have potentially long term benefits.

While previous research has shed light on the social correlates of physical activity behaviour,8 particularly in children and adolescents,9-11 we know little about the potential for interventions to “exploit” social networks (i.e. interventions that purposefully utilise social networks to influence behaviour change).12 Given the purported influence of social networks and support on a number of health behaviours, including physical activity, more research is warranted.

Outline Plan of Investigation

The PhD student will work within a multidisciplinary team of researchers to design, implement and evaluate a social network-enabled intervention to increase physical activity in adolescents.

Further information and application


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New Lay Summary Available: 'Hidden' Social Networks in Behaviour Change Interventions

Ruth F. Hunter, Helen McAneney, Michael Davis, Mark A. Tully, Thomas W. Valente, and Frank Kee
American Journal of Public Health: March 2015, Vol. 105, No. 3, pp. 513-516
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302399

Why do we need to better understand social networks in behaviour change research.

For a long time epidemiologists have understood that the way we interact with others can have important effects on our health. Until now, these observations have not been much used by those designing behaviour change interventions, but our social interactions may indeed affect the impact of such interventions.

Research Aim

To understand how much other people’s behavior change affected individuals participating in an intervention to incentivize physical activity.

What did we do?

We collected objective social network and physical activity data concurrently over a 12-week period from a quasi-experimental trial of a financial incentive intervention in a worksite based in Belfast. This was done through the use of a “smart card” that participants swiped on sensors distributed along walking trails as they exercised. If two or more participants were walking together then this data was remotely captured by the smart cards.

What did we find?

Of the 406 participants, 225 engaged in physical activity involving social interactions with at least 1 other participant (as opposed to those doing physical activity alone or not at all). We inferred 5578 social interactions over the 12-week intervention, with 282 distinct pairings of participants, demonstrating clear evidence of hidden social networks within the intervention Results suggested that those engaged in physical activity with others maintained higher activity levels (i.e., 150 min/wk) throughout the intervention period.

Why is this important ?

Further, analyses of interventions that take explicit account of previously unobserved hidden social networks might better uncover mediators and pathways of initiation and maintenance of behavior change.

Read the original paper: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302399

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