Toward Whole-of-System Action to Promote Physical Activity: A Cross-Sectoral Analysis of Physical Activity Policy in Australia

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Background: The value of a systems thinking approach to tackling population physical inactivity is increasingly recognized. This study used conceptual systems thinking to develop a cognitive map for physical activity (PA) influences and intervention points, which informed a standardized approach to the coding and notation of PA-related policies in Australia. Methods: Policies were identified through desktop searches and input from 33 nominated government representatives attending 2 national PA policy workshops. Documents were audited using predefined criteria spanning policy development, strategic approaches to PA, implementation processes, and evaluation. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Results: The audit included 110 policies, mainly led by the health or planning/infrastructure sectors (n = 54, 49%). Most policies purporting to promote PA did so as a cobenefit of another objective that was not focused on PA (n = 63, 57%). An intention to monitor progress was indicated in most (n = 94, 85%); however, fewer than half (n = 52, 47%) contained evaluable goals/actions relevant to PA. Descriptions of resourcing/funding arrangements were generally absent or lacked specific commitment (n = 67, 61%). Conclusions: This study describes current PA-relevant policy in Australia and identifies opportunities for improving coordination, implementation, and evaluation to strengthen a whole-of-system and cross-agency approach to increasing population PA.

Nau, Lee, Smith, Bellew, Reece, and Bauman are with the Prevention Research Collaboration, Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Nau, Lee, Smith, Bellew, and Bauman are with The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Gelius is with the Department of Sport Science and Sport, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen, Germany. Rutter is with the Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, Bath, United Kingdom.

Nau ( is corresponding author.

Supplementary Materials

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    • Supplementary Table 2 (PDF 136 KB)
    • Supplementary Table 3 (PDF 271 KB)