All we know about physical activity and the family environment: A system mapping approach

Bratislava – Slovakia – 2020

Conference Venue: TBC

Facilitators: Ryan E. Rhodes, Aleks Luszczynska 

Regular fee: €250

Reduced fee: €150 (for all participants working in countries that are ranked low income or lower middle income. For a list of eligible countries click on the following link: worldbank ranking

Application: Synergy Expert Meeting postponed until 23-24 of Augstust 2021. Applications will re-open in due course.

Description: Research and theories have stressed the role of multiple family-related factors that determine (promote or hinder) the initiation and maintenance of physical activity by the family members. For example, socio-ecological models (Birch & Davison, 2001; Sallis et al., 2006) include a long list of such family-related factors as parental practices, knowledge, behaviors of family members, perceptions of physical environment by the family members, as well as broadly defined sociodemographic characteristics such as family situation and structure. Still, the breadth of socio-ecological models lack clarity in terms on what/how factors are linked to family PA. It’s important to create a working model based on consideration of the wide range of potential factors related to family systems that matter. The Expert Meeting (EM) aims to advance this aim.

The EM aims to go a step beyond the existing approaches through (1) an integration of the broad list of family environment factors related to physical activity of family members and (2) combining the factors into a system map (Allender et al., 2015; Rutter et al., 2019) of family environment of physical activity. In particular, the objective of the Expert Meeting (EM) is to develop a conceptual system map of family environment factors that explain physical activity of nuclear members (parents or legal guardians + children).

The EM would aim not only at developing a descriptive framework (i.e., a list of potential factors and their properties), but to attempt to develop an explanatory framework, that pre-specify the linkage and/or relationships between framework concepts (Rubenstein-Montano et al., 2001; Rycroft-Malone & Bucknall, 2010). Specifically, we will attempt to develop a system-oriented logic model.  In general, the system-oriented logic models recognize that the links between respective areas may be of different types and directions and that areas may be interlinked in a more complex way than an order assuming ‘one cause – one effect’ links (Rohwer et al., 2017, Rutter et al., 2017). We believe this approach is highly relevant to the family system and physical activity, given its complex interactivity. In general, the system may be defined by properties, such as emergence, feedback, and adaptation (Rutter et al., 2017). Emergence describes the properties of a complex system that cannot be directly predicted from the elements within it and are more than just the sum of its parts. For example, the changing physical activity levels across the population can be conceptualized as an emergent property of the built environment, transport, economic, and other systems that in turn shape the physical activity-related behaviours of individuals. Feedback refers to a situation in which a change in one area reinforces, balances, or hinder further changes in the same or other areas.. Adaptation refers to adjustments in behaviour of any stakeholders involved, in response to an (possible) introduction of a policy, such as

Rutter’s et al. (2019) of physical activity system map, the existing theoretical prescriptive and descriptive models and frameworks explaining physical activity (e.g. Sallis et al., 2008), as well as systematic reviews of existing evidence of family factors (e.g., Brown et al., 2016; Rhodes & Quinlan, 2014; Yao & Rhodes, 2015) would be used as the starting point for developing and refining the family environment system map of physical activity.

SET-UP OF COLLABORATIVE EXPERT MEETING: The methods applied during the EM would aim at developing a publishable system map, which would complement models for physical activity by providing an insight into complex family environment factors and shifting the focus towards system-based logic approach (instead of process-oriented approaches).

Two methods will be applied:

  • The nominal group approach, utilises expert knowledge on theory and evidence, securing the equal opportunities for the involvement of all EM members (for an example of the use of nominal group approach see Hagger, Luszczynska, et al., 2018).
  • The system mapping approach (cf. Vennix, 1996; Marby et al., 2008; Rutter et al., 2019) to group model building. A systems approach takes complexity into account by considering non-linear relationships between variables, accumulations, feedback loops, effects of time delays in systems and the unintended consequences that emerge as a function of these characteristics that would otherwise be missed (Marby et al., 2008). There is an established practice of involving stakeholders in the process of building informal maps and formal simulation models called group model building (Rutter et al., 2019, Vennix, 1996).


The workshop will include activities:

  • Small and plenary group discussion to pre-identify the broad list of family environment factors related to physical activity of family members
  • Group model building: Developing a system map of family environment for physical activity (activity led by facilitators trained in developing system maps by Steven Allender). The map would integrate of the broad list of family environment factors related to physical activity of family members and specify the relationships between the constructs.

RELEVANCE: Physical activity is one of the core behaviors for any health psychology specialist, working in illness prevention and health promotion contexts. Family factors can promote or hinder regular physical activity, yet this complex situation is not well-understood.   Complex approaches, helping researchers to systematically control for confounding family variables and processes are needed. Furthermore, going beyond traditional descriptive and prescriptive frameworks may inspire novel theoretical solutions, bettering our understanding of physical activity intervention.


  • Allender S, Owen B, Kuhlberg J, Lowe J, Nagorcka-Smith P, Whelan J, . . . Bell, C. (2015) A Community Based Systems Diagram of Obesity Causes. PLoS ONE, 10(7), e0129683.
  • Rhodes, R. E., & Quinlan, A. (2014). The family as a context for physical activity promotion. In M. R. Beauchamp & M. A. Eys (Eds.), Group Dynamics in Exercise and Sport Psychology (second ed., pp. 203-221). New York: Routledge.
  • Rutter, H., Cavill, N., Bauman, A & Bull, F. (2019) System approaches to global and national physical activity plans. Bulletin of World Health Organization, 97, 162-165. doi:
  • Rutter, H., Savona, N., Glonti, K., Bibby, J., Cummins, S., Finegood, D. T., & White, M. (2017). The need for a complex systems model of evidence for public health. Lancet, 390(10112), 2602-2604.
  • Yao, C. A., & Rhodes, R. E. (2015). Parental correlates in child and adolescent physical activity: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 12, 10.

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