Although physical activity is considered to yield substantial health benefits, the level of physical activity among European teenagers is not sufficient. Adolescence is characterized by a decline in physical activity level. Many studies investigated the effectiveness of interventions promoting physical activity among young people, but none dealt with the available evidence specific for Europe. This review was conducted to summarize the effectiveness of interventions to promote physical activity among European teenagers.
A systematic review was conducted to identify European intervention studies published in the scientific literature since 1995. Four databases were searched, reference lists were scanned and the publication lists of the authors of the retrieved articles were checked. The ANGELO framework was used to categorise the included studies by setting and by intervention components.
The literature search identified 20 relevant studies. Fifteen interventions were delivered through the school setting, of which three included a family component and another three a family and community component. One intervention was conducted within a community setting, three were delivered in primary care and one was delivered through the internet. Ten interventions included only an individual component, whereas the other ten used a multi-component approach. None of the interventions included only an environmental component.
Main findings of the review were: (1) school-based interventions generally lead to short term improvements in physical activity levels; (2) improvements in physical activity levels by school-based interventions were limited to school related physical activity with no conclusive transfer to leisure time physical activity; (3) including parents appeared to enhance school-based interventions; (4) the support of peers and the influence of direct environmental changes increased the physical activity level of secondary school children; (5) the assumption that a multi-component approach should produce synergistic results can not be confirmed; (6) when interventions aimed to affect more than one health behaviour the intervention appeared to be less effective in favour of physical activity.
Overall, the current European literature supports the short-term effectiveness of school-based physical activity promotion programmes. The available evidence for the effectiveness in other settings is rather limited and underscores the need for further research.