Children’s Voices in Physical Activity Research: A Qualitative Review and Synthesis of UK Children’s Perspectives

Lydia Emm-Collison, Rosina Cross, Maria Garcia Gonzalez, Debbie Watson, Charlie Foster, Russell Jago

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)
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Background: Physical activity during childhood is associated with multiple short-and long-term health benefits. Physical activity levels decline throughout primary school emphasising a need for effective strategies to promote more activity in children. Children have rarely been involved in the intervention development process. This gap is an important omission and there is much to be learnt from existing qualitative studies with children, which could serve as a starting point for specific projects. This systematic review aimed to synthesise qualitative studies with primary school children in the United Kingdom to identify children’s perspectives on why physical activity is important, the factors that influence their physical activity and what they like when it comes to physical activity. Methods: A search of seven databases (conducted in October 2019) identified 26 papers for inclusion. Data extraction and synthesis were conducted using qualitative thematic synthesis. The quality of papers was assessed using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist for qualitative research. Results: Across the diverse range of studies, several key themes were identified in relation to the three research questions. Children have a comprehensive understanding of the various benefits of physical activity, including benefits for health, fitness and skills development. A range of social agents and practical issues influence children’s physical activity, with friend and peer influences being particularly salient. Most children like to have choice over the activities they undertake and the opportunities for creative physical play such as making up active games. Conclusions: The findings suggest that future interventions should utilize peer relationships, ensure a variety of activities are offered to cater to a broad range of children’s physical activity preferences and incorporate child-led activities where possible. The included studies also highlight a need for more diversity in qualitative research in this area, particularly in terms of ethnicity and age, and combining traditional qualitative methods with creative methods, such as photography, may provide richer insights than when using a single mode of data collection. We also highlight several methodological challenges, and in particular, the need for greater acknowledgement of the role of the researcher in qualitative work with children.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3993
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding: This study was supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, University of Bristol and the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (204813/Z/16/Z).


  • children
  • physical activity
  • qualitative systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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