A leading UK researcher in physical activity and obesity, Dr Charlie Foster, recently gave a seminar at the University of Sydney which, amongst other things, canvassed having research subjects wear digital cameras in order to provide more accurate data on their habits (pictured below).
Thanks to Rona Macniven from the University of Sydney for providing this report on the seminar.
Action on regulation and infrastructure is needed to boost physical activity
Rona Macniven writes:
Physical activity levels continue to be worryingly low in the Australian population with data from the National Healthy Survey finding that only around 40% of adults are doing enough regular activity necessary for a host of physical and mental health benefits.
As the fourth leading risk factors for mortality worldwide, the importance of regular physical activity is clear.
Recently the Physical Activity Nutrition Obesity Research Group (PANORG) at the University of Sydney hosted a leading researcher in physical activity and obesity from the UK, Dr Charlie Foster from the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University.
Charlie is currently on sabbatical in Australia spending time at various research centres and NGOs. He led a collaboration of leading UK academics producing reviews of epidemiology, determinants, interventions and health economics on a wide range of approaches to promote physical activity for children and adults.
Dr Foster gave a seminar titled “The evidence base for physical activity promotion: from correlates, interventions to new technologies – do we have more clarity or confusion?” covering some of the recent work from Oxford presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, held in Melbourne last month.
Charlie has led the development of public health evidence for physical activity in the UK through a series of reviews for National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) and has also been involved in reviews published by the Cochrane Collaboration and in the British Medical Journal.
However, he discussed how reviews are only part of the process of distilling evidence into policy and practice; a process which is currently incomplete as there is still much to be known about effective interventions for achieving behaviour change.
Another area of his work is promoting physical activity and healthy eating through the regulatory environment.
In a recent study where people were asked to draw their ‘neighbourhood‘, the resulting area drawn represented on average only 16% of the commonly used buffer of 1.6km; adults’ interpretation of their neighbourhood area does not appear to relate accurately to the definitions typically used in research into environmental perceptions and walking.
Another key finding from his group’s work is that traffic volumes appear to have greater impact on leisure cycling than commuter cycling and future research should investigate the importance of traffic on different types of cycling and include psychosocial correlates.
An innovative area of the Groups’ measurement work is using the tool Sensecam which is a camera attached to an individual which generates periodic live images of their behavior. It is proving particularly useful in accurately capturing recall of physical activity and food consumption and its usefulness in other areas of behavior measurement can be imagined. Charlie advised drawing on the experience and skills of computer scientists in managing this data; 1.8 million images were generated from a study of 150 participants over six days.
In physical activity, as well as many other areas of public health, the evidence base for intervention may be well established yet gaps exist regarding the impacts of research on public policy and investment.
Through advocacy to government and other key decision makers, real change can be realised as we have experienced in Australia and other countries through tobacco legislation and concurrent declines in smoking rates. We are now seeing Australia leading the way in landmark action from the Federal government on plain packaging and to achieve similar real change in physical activity levels and other health behaviours, similar levels of action are imperative.
The evidence base for physical activity is in place; whole-of-government policy and infrastructure development is the next step.