The influence of environmental factors on the generalisability of public health research evidence: physical activity as a worked example

Article


Watts, P., Phillips, Gemma, Harden, A. and Renton, A. 2011. The influence of environmental factors on the generalisability of public health research evidence: physical activity as a worked example. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. 8 (1), pp. 1479-5868.
AuthorsWatts, P., Phillips, Gemma, Harden, A. and Renton, A.
Abstract

Background: It is rare that decisions about investing in public health interventions in a city, town or other location
can be informed by research generated in that specific place. It is therefore necessary to base decisions on
evidence generated elsewhere and to make inferences about the extent to which this evidence is generalisable to
the place of interest. In this paper we discuss the issues involved in making such inferences, using physical activity
as an example. We discuss the ways in which elements of the structural, physical, social and/or cultural
environment (environmental factors [EFs]) can shape physical activity (PA) and also how EFs may influence the
effectiveness of interventions that aim to promote PA. We then highlight the ways in which EFs may impact on
the generalisability of different types of evidence.
Discussion: We present a framework for thinking about the influence of EFs when assessing the generalisability of
evidence from the location in which the evidence was generated (place A) to the location to which the evidence
is to be applied (place B). The framework relates to similarities and differences between place A and place B with
respect to: a) the distributions of EFs; b) the causal pathways through which EFs or interventions are thought to
exert their effect on PA and c) the ways in which EFs interact with each other. We suggest, using examples, how
this scheme can be used by public health professionals who are designing, executing, reporting and synthesising
research on PA; or designing/implementing interventions.
Summary: Our analysis and scheme, although developed for physical activity, may potentially be adapted and
applied to other evidence and interventions which are likely to be sensitive to influence by elements of the
structural, physical, social and/or cultural environment such as the epidemiology of obesity and healthy weight
promotion.

Keywordsphysical activity; environment; public health; external validity
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity
Journal citation8 (1), pp. 1479-5868
ISSN1479-5868
Year2011
Publisher's version
License
CC BY-ND
Web address (URL)http://hdl.handle.net/10552/1590
Publication dates
Print16 Nov 2011
Publication process dates
Deposited09 May 2012
Additional information

Citation:
Watts, P., Phillips, G., Petticrew, M., Harden, A. and Renton, A. (2011) 'The influence of environmental factors on the generalisability of public health research evidence: physical activity as a worked example', International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2011, 8(1), p.128, doi:10.1186/1479-5868-8-128.

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