Employing physical activity to prevent chronic disease

Project title: Harnessing the power of physical activity for improving the prevention system: Australian systems approaches to physical activity (the ASAPa project)

Start date: February 2018

Estimated end date: December 2020

What is the issue?

Physical inactivity contributes nearly the same as obesity and smoking to the global burden of disease, particularly to morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. But, compared to other risk factors, the role of physical inactivity is under-recognised in Australia’s chronic disease strategic planning and program implementation.

Australia has a relatively low rate of adults meeting the recommended minimum physical activity guidelines (43%) compared to other countries, and there is no national physical activity specific policy or plan. Further, adult rates of meeting physical activity guidelines in the National Health surveys have not improved for over 20 years. However, Australia ranks second in the world for physical activity research, indicating there is a mismatch between the research conducted and its translation into improving population health.

There is a need for a consistent systems approach to physical activity, and into interventions that influence population physical activity levels, including programs outside the health sector, for example through engagement with the Sport and Recreation, Education, Parks, Urban Planning and Transport sectors.

How is the project addressing the issue?

This project has five elements:

  1. Mapping physical activity policies, programs and prevalence nationally and across state and territory jurisdictions, through a series of meetings with stakeholders
  2. Providing templates of key performance indicators to enable monitoring of progress in program and policy actions across the ‘physical activity system’
  3. Undertaking a distillation of evidence to guide current best practice in cross-sectoral approaches to physical activity and criteria for better practice approaches to strategic governance and coordination, and developing an integrated cross-government framework for action
  4. Testing the feasibility of innovative programs to promote physical activity at the population level
  5. Investigating specifications for a knowledge hub to curate knowledge products and to support cross-sectoral, cross-agency, and cross-jurisdictional sharing of knowledge for better practice in physical activity.

What are the expected outcomes?

  • Improved capacity to address physical activity
  • Standardised approaches to population surveillance and monitoring
  • A framework for action at the national and jurisdictional level that will improve physical activity levels across Australia, and contribute to improving health and chronic disease prevention.

Relevance for practice

This project will produce Australia’s first framework for national action to increase and monitor population level physical activity.

It will inform policy by testing innovative programs to promote physical activity, including their scalability to population level interventions.

This project is building on existing Prevention Centre projects including a national prevention system and scaling up preventive health interventions.



Project lead

Professor Adrian Bauman, University of Sydney

Project team

Adjunct Professor Bill Bellew, University of Sydney

Professor Ben Smith, University of Sydney

Dr Anne Grunseit, University of Sydney

Karen Lee, University of Sydney

Tracy Nau, University of Sydney

Sophie Cassidy, University of Sydney


Stakeholder team

Key stakeholders from across all levels of government and sectors, including health, sport, transport and planning together with non-government representatives, in the first year of this project, engaged in discussions on systems-based approaches to physical activity.

A project working group was established in the second year, comprised of selected government and non-government representatives, and with linkages to the National Physical Activity Network and the Cycling Walking Australia and New Zealand (CWANZ) network, to continue advising on the project’s direction and outputs.

Funding for this research has been provided from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF provides funding to support health and medical research and innovation, with the objective of improving the health and wellbeing of Australians. MRFF funding has been provided to The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre under the MRFF Boosting Preventive Health Research Program. Further information on the MRFF is available at www.health.gov.au/mrff.

  • Two national meetings were held with policy makers from multiple sectors across Australia. A project working group has been established to provide support and advice on the project’s direction and outputs.
  • A comprehensive audit and analysis of policies relating to physical activity across states and territories, as well as nationally and across different sectors, has been completed. Population-level physical activity programs and large-scale interventions were also mapped at the state, territory and national level. This is part of mapping the ‘3Ps’ that form part of the current physical activity landscape: prevalence measures, policies and programs relevant to physical activity.
  • Work is continuing to assess how prevalence measures differ nationally and across states and territories, and how they could be standardised.
  • A technical guide is under development with the aim of improving policy making and practice across different sectors and to support a more integrated and coordinated systems approach to physical activity.
  • The project working group has started to develop specifications for a knowledge hub and community-of-practice for physical activity.
  • A paper on Whole of systems approaches to physical activity policy and practice in Australia was published by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. See the Publications tab on this website page.
  • Drafting and review of Getting Australia Active 3 is well advanced with further feedback to be gained from our working group members at the next meeting on 12 December 2019. Once finalised, the report will be made available here.
  • Project members also contributed towards a symposium on ‘Measuring policy actions for healthy and sustainable food and physical activity environments’ for the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (ISBNPA) 2020 conference in Auckland. This symposium will provide an opportunity to share our research on physical activity policy development in Australia.



  • Nau T. ASAPa as a research-practice partnership to promote a systems approach to physical activity in Australia. Physical Activity Research Seminar Series hosted by the Prevention Research Collaboration, Charles Perkins Centre, Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, and SPRINTER. 31 October 2019.
  • The ASAPa team shared NSW-specific project findings with the SPRINTER team to support the development of the NSW physical activity strategy, led by the NSW Office of Sport. SPRINTER has also presented  findings to several NSW health agencies.
  • Presentations on the role of physical activity and physical activity policy to the Obesity Summit in Canberra and the National Preventive Health Strategy consultations in Sydney, 30 September 2019.