Utilising active play interventions to promote physical activity and improve fundamental movement skills in children

Avril Johnstone, Adrienne R. Hughes, Anne Martin, John J. Reilly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Children’s physical activity levels are low and efforts to improve their physical activity levels have proven difficult. Freely chosen and unstructured physical activity (active play) has the potential to be promoted in a variety of settings and potentially every day of the year in contrast to other physical activity domains, but active play interventions are an under-researched area. Therefore, the primary aim of this systematic review was to determine the effect of active play interventions on children’s physical activity levels, particularly moderate-tovigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA), and fundamental movement skills (FMS). Methods: Studies were included if they were solely or predominantly active play randomised, or cluster randomised controlled trials that targeted children aged 3–12 years. They had to report on at least one of the following outcomes: objectively measured physical activity, FMS, cognition and weight status. During December 2016, four databases (PE Index, SPORTDiscus, Medline and ERIC) were searched for relevant titles. Duplicates and irrelevant titles and abstracts were removed. The included studies had their quality assessed using the Effective Public Health Practice Project (EPHPP) tool. Suitable studies were combined in a meta-analysis using a random-effect model. A narrative synthesis was conducted for all outcomes. Results: Of the 4033 records, 91 studies were eligible for full text screening, of which 87 were removed, leaving four studies (representing five papers). The meta-analysis of two studies highlighted there was no significant effect of active play interventions on MVPA. However, the narrative synthesis suggested that active play interventions may increase total volume of physical activity. Only two studies examined the effect of active play interventions on children’s FMS, one study examined effects on weight status and none examined effects on cognition. Conclusions: Due to the small number of eligible studies and their heterogeneity, the review could not draw firm conclusions on the effect of active play interventions on children’s physical activity levels. High-quality active play interventions, targeting different times of the day (school and after school) in different populations and settings, and with a wider range of outcomes, are required to determine the potential of active play.
Original languageEnglish
Article number789
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2018


  • active play
  • fundamental movement skills
  • cognition
  • weight status
  • children
  • physical activity
  • moderate-to-vigorous physical activity
  • systematic review

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