BACKGROUND: Recent evidence and recommendations suggest that physical activity health promotion should be aimed at persuading the whole population to adopt an active lifestyle. Intensive medical programmes aimed at promoting physical activity amongst those at risk are not effective at achieving this aim. Brief advice from primary care professionals to quit smoking has a small but, at a population level, important effect. Brief advice in primary care to adopt a more active lifestyle may be similarly effective. The aim of this review is to determine the effect of advice given in routine primary care consultations on levels of physical activity.
METHODS: A systematic review was carried out of trials assessing the effectiveness of advice given in routine primary care consultations. Data sources were four electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Sport discus, Cochrane Library), and bibliographies of retrieved papers were searched. Experts were contacted.
RESULTS: Eight trials, with a total of 4747 participants, were identified; the majority were from the United States. Outcome measures varied considerably between trials, including continuous measures (e.g. duration of exercise) and dichotomous measures (e.g. being active), therefore statistical pooling was inappropriate. Two of the trials were cluster randomized controlled trials, the remainder were quasi-experimental. None of the trials fulfilled all of the predetermined quality criteria and selection bias in the nonrandomized studies may have exaggerated results. Four of the six trials that presented short-term (up to 8 weeks) results found advice to be effective; only one of the four trials with long-term follow-up (4-12 months) found a sustained effect. The two randomized controlled trials had negative short- and long-term results.
CONCLUSIONS: From the available evidence it appears that advice in routine primary care consultations is not an effective means of producing sustained increases in physical activity. However, these results may not be applicable to the United Kingdom, where the structure of primary care is unique. Quality research in UK primary care would be valuable.
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