100 Ways of Using Data to Make Lives Better

ACTIVE Children Through Incentive Vouchers

Published on: 6th January 2017

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Citizen Driven Health

Sinead Brophy, Danielle Christian, Charlotte Todd, Gareth Stratton, Michaela James, Liz Irvine, Emily Marchant, Jo Demmler, Roxanne Cooksey, Suzanna Audrey, Julian Halcox, Sarah McCoubrey, Helen John – Swansea University

This study aims to see if giving teenagers vouchers to spend on activities of their choice can reduce the time spent being inactive, improve fitness, lower risk of heart disease and improve general health.

The Challenge

Physical inactivity is one of the most important issues in public health today, with heart disease killing around one in four people in the UK. A lack of sufficient activity in youth has been linked to heath issues later in life and is considered a key contributor to increased obesity.

Studies have indicated that there is a notable decline in physical activity in adolescence. There are growing concerns that young people are spending increasing amounts of time on sedentary (inactive) activities including watching television, using a computer and playing video games. This is concerning because research has shown that physical activity can control weight, reduce stress and even result in a higher IQ.

The Research

To look into the growing problem of teenage inactivity, a team from the Farr Institute, Swansea University, have set up the ACTIVE programme. The programme, funded by the British Heart Foundation, aims to see whether giving teenagers vouchers to spend on activities of their choice – whether it’s dancing, football, swimming, karate, skateboarding or BMXing – can reduce the time spent being sedentary, improve fitness, lower the risk of heart disease and improve general health.

This work follows on from an earlier study, where adolescents in a Swansea school were given vouchers to spend on sporting activities. The study found that year 9 pupils who received the vouchers had improved attitudes to physical activity, increased socialisation with friends and improved fitness and physical activity.

The ACTIVE programme will involve Year 9 pupils (age 13-14 years) at eight randomly selected schools in the Swansea area. Four schools will receive £20 per month in vouchers, for 12 months, to spend on physical activities of their choice, such as joining a gym, skateboarding, or buying sporting equipment. The other four schools will act as a comparison group, who will continue with usual practice and not receive the vouchers. These schools however are offered a 10-week mindfulness (stress-reduction) course for pupils or teachers as a thank you for their participation. Both groups will take part in data collecting exercises, including:

  • Completing an exercise motivation questionnaire
  • Performing a running test to measure fitness
  • Wearing an accelerometer device to record activity levels
  • Undergoing tests to measure their cardiovascular (heart) health

The team will study both the data collected and routinely collected data through SAIL, including adolescents’ health and educational records. All participants’ identities are removed to protect their privacy and to comply with data protection rules.

The Results

All schools involved will receive a report of their pupil’s physical activity levels, fitness and heart health to allow schools themselves to identify areas of success and potential areas for improvement. Additionally, findings from the study will be used to inform the design of more effective physical activity projects in the future.

The Impact

The programme has the potential to help improve physical activity levels, general health and heart health, whilst influencing long-term behaviour, through engagement activities for a large number of teenagers.

As well as examining the long-term impact of the project on the health of teenagers, the research team will explore if they are any cost saving benefits, for example in reducing the number of visits to GP. If findings are favourable, then the ACTIVE project has the potential to be rolled out to other areas in the UK.

Enquiries to Sarah Toomey, Communications Officer, Farr Institute CIPHER, s.toomey@swansea.ac.uk

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