What kind of interventions can help to encourage socioeconomically disadvantaged women to exercise?

This week in the Woodland we’ve been focusing on ways to ramp up the old physical activity in our lives and today is no different. It seemed important to focus a little more on the fairer sex when I read that women are less active than men across the lifespan. We definitely spend a lot of time on our long-suffering feet but clearly not enough engaging in physical activity.

A particular subset of the female population is even less likely to be getting out of breath and that is those with lower levels of education, lower status occupations and living in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. It’s an important group to target for the development of interventions because the benefits could be wide-reaching. Mothers that exercise have been shown to have a greater direct influence on their children’s physical activity behaviour than their fathers do.

In recognition of this a systematic review was published last month that aimed to determine the effectiveness of interventions to increase physical activity in women experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage. They set out to determine which intervention factors were associated with greater effectiveness – be it physical activity measure, delivery mode, setting, duration, use of theory, behavioural techniques and mean age of participant. After a search of relevant databases they found nineteen studies that were suitable for inclusion involving 6,339 participants (18-64 years). A meta-analysis of the trials was carried out using random-effects models and meta-regression and this is what they found:

  • Studies with a group delivery component had a standardised mean difference of 0.38 greater than either individual or community-based delivery
  • For interventions that include this component this equates to achieving an additional 70min/week of physical activity or approximately 1,000 steps /day
  • The type of formats in the group studies generally consisted of group education meetings, practical sessions or a combination of both, facilitated by trained personnel


  • There was substantial statistical heterogeneity between the studies so that an overall pooled effect could not be reported
  • Most of the studies used a self-reported measure of physical activity and had a high risk of bias (only 5 studies had low to medium risk)
  • Only studies published in English were used

The authors concluded:

‘Our results make an important contribution to informing the design of public health interventions targeting this high-risk population group, and provide fundamental guidance for policy-makers and service deliverers’.

‘Studies investigating the impact of type of social support and the size, nature and format of group interventions to promote physical activity will provide further important insights for policy and practise’.

Clearly the social support offered by group settings has a real impact in encouraging people to exercise. So, COME ON GIRLS!  Put on your best sports bra, dig out your trainers, grab your mates and go for a run. Together. A giggling gaggle of women, supporting, motivating, sharing and laughing your way round the block.


Cleland, V., Granados, A., Crawford, D., Winzenberg, T. and Ball, K. (2012), Effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity among socioeconomically disadvantaged women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2012.01058.x [PubMed]