Which behaviour change techniques are associated with interventions that increase physical activity in pre-school children? A systematic review

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Insufficient physical activity (PA) is a significant risk factor that contributes to several health problems and there is a need to improve our understanding of how to increase PA, particularly among young children. This review (PROSPERO registration: CRD42022328841) investigated the relationship between behaviour change techniques (BCTs) and interventions that increased PA among pre-school children aged <6 years old.

Systematic searches of six databases were undertaken from inception to July 2022, updated in December 2022, to locate studies that evaluated interventions and reported a positive change in PA levels in children aged  <6 years old.

A total of 5,304 studies were screened, and 28 studies involving 10,605 subjects aged 2.5 to 5.9 years met the eligibility criteria. Each eligible study (n = 28) was independently appraised by two researchers using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. The BCT Taxonomy v1 and the Template for Intervention Description and Replication (TIDieR) guided the extraction and analysis of data, and this process led to the identification of 27 BCTs.

Potentially promising BCTs for increasing PA among young children included ‘shaping knowledge,’ ‘antecedents,’ ‘goals and planning,’ and ‘comparison of behaviour.’ Future PA interventions that target young children should consider integrating these promising BCTs into their programmes. However, such consideration needs to be tempered by the fact that most of the reviewed studies were deemed to have a high or unclear risk of bias and/or were limited with respect to the populations that they targeted. Further research using rigorous methodologies is required to establish a higher standard that addresses the needs of young children who are expected to have insufficient levels of physical activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2013
Number of pages18
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank Dr Richard Fallis, academic librarian at Queen’s University Belfast, for assistance during electronic searches.

Funding Information:
M.A. is supported by a PhD scholarship from Taif University, Saudi Arabia. No other sources of support were used to assist in the preparation of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature.


  • Physical activity
  • behaviour change techniques
  • Pre-school
  • Children
  • Paediatrics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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