Toward whole-of-system action to promote physical activity: a cross-sectoral analysis of physical activity policy in Australia

Tracey Nau, Karen C. Lee, Benjamin Smith, William Bellew, Lindsey Reece, Peter Gelius, Harald Rutter, Adrian Bauman

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1038
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Physical Activity & Health
Issue number11
Early online date1 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2019


  • Evaluation
  • Health promotion
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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