Employing physical activity to prevent chronic disease

Project title: Harnessing the power of physical activity for improving the Australian prevention system

Start date: February 2018

Estimated end date: TBA

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 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

Associate Professor Ben Smith, Monash University

Steve Gilbert, University of Sydney

Dr Anne Grunseit, University of Sydney

Karen Lee, University of Sydney

Tracy Nau, University of Sydney


Stakeholder team

Representatives from the Australian Government Department of Health (Population Health Division and Office for Sport), the Australian Sports Commission and each State or Territory Health Department Population Health or Prevention representative with specific responsibility for physical activity will act as a reference group for policy relevant issues, and will form the basis of meetings to be held in the first year.

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.

  • The second stakeholder national meeting was held with participants mainly from the health sector, across all jurisdictions in Australia
  • The research component of the project has begun, this comprises mapping of the current physical activity landscape in Australian with a focus on policies, programs and surveillance measures within the last 5-10 years
  • Completed audit review of policy documents self-reported at first national meeting
  • Continue to enhance the comprehensiveness of policy and programs captured through further investigative work and second national meeting.