Evidence summary: group interventions may be better than individual advice in encouraging poorer women to be more active

vintage photo of teen girls exercising

NICE have produced a summary of new evidence on improving physical activity among socially disadvantaged women.  The full article is available as part of their regular Eyes on Evidence email newsletter.


We know that lack of physical activity is a risk factor for chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and that women are less likely to take part in physical activity than men.

Current guidance in primary care suggests that people who aren’t active enough should be advised to do so.  Whether or not they are able to act on this advice is a matter that is explored in this summary.

New evidence

The review was based on 19 trials of different interventions to help socioeconomically disadvantaged women become more active

The review was based on 19 trials of different interventions to help socioeconomically disadvantaged women become more active

The summary is based on a systematic review of trials looking at interventions to encourage greater physical activity amongst socioeconomically disadvantaged women.  19 trials were found, based mostly in Europe and North America.

The reviewers found some evidence that group interventions were more effective than individual interventions.  However, most of the analyses showed no difference or were heterogeneous.

Elaine Michel, Director of Public Health at Derbyshire County Council, commented

Practice in terms of approaches to increasing physical activity should not be changed solely on the basis of this study. The findings do, however, provide useful information for healthcare professionals considering options for increasing physical activity in communities of disadvantaged women.


  • The systematic review was found to contain a substantial amount of heterogeneity.  This suggests that the different trials may not have been looking at equivalent populations, settings and/or outcomes, and we should be cautious about combining the results.
  • The outcomes were mostly based on self-reports.
  • Many of the trials were assessed as having a high risk of bias, so we should also be cautious about interpreting findings based on analysis of individual trials.
  • As noted in the clinical commentary on this review, personal preference needs to be factored in.  Some people just don’t like being in groups, whilst others lap up any opportunity to join one.  This review does not address this issue.


National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).  Interventions to improve physical activity in socioeconomically disadvantaged women.  Eyes on Evidence 2014; 57.

Cleland V, Granados A, Crawford D, Winzenberg T and Ball K, Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity among socioeconomically disadvantaged women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews 2013, 14: 197–212. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2012.01058.x