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Inequities and inequalities in outdoor walking groups: A scoping review

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Benjamin RigbyORCiD, Professor Emily OliverORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2020 The Author(s). Background: Outdoor walking groups are widely-used programmes aimed at improving physical activity and health outcomes. Despite being promoted as accessible and inclusive, emerging work highlights participation biases based on gender, age and socioeconomic status, for example. To explicate the impact of outdoor walking groups on physical activity inequities, we conducted a scoping review of published outdoor walking group literatures. Specifically, we critically examined: (a) equity integration strategies; (b) intervention reach; (c) effectiveness; and (d) potential social determinants of engagement relating to the World Health Organization's conceptual framework. Methods: Arksey and O'Malley's scoping review protocol was used to develop a comprehensive search strategy and identify relevant academic and grey literatures, which were screened using pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria. Data were organised by Cochrane PROGRESS-Plus equity characteristics and a narrative summary was presented for each thematic area. Findings: Sixty-two publications were included. Key findings were: (a) some evidence of targeted intervention trials. Large-scale national programmes were tailored to regional activity and health needs, which may contribute toward addressing inequities. However, participant demographics seldom informed reported analyses; (b) participation was more likely among white, more socioeconomically advantaged, middle-to-older aged, female and able-bodied adults; (c) positive physical and psychological outcomes were unlikely to extend along social gradients; and (d) interventions primarily addressed intermediary determinants (e.g. psychosocial barriers; material resource). Social capital (e.g. friend-making) was identified as potentially important for addressing physical activity inequalities. Conclusions: The published literature on outdoor walking groups leaves unanswered questions regarding participation inequalities, with implications for future physical activity promotion. Currently, participation in outdoor walking groups is typically more prevalent among advantaged subpopulations. We make recommendations for research and practice to address these issues, as well as aid the translation of existing knowledge into practice. We advocate increased focus on the social determinants of engagement. A more consistent approach to collecting and analysing participant socio-demographic data is required. Our findings also support recommendations that appropriate tailoring of universal programmes to community needs and embedding strategies to increase social cohesion are important in developing equitable programmes.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rigby BP, Dodd-Reynolds CJ, Oliver EJ

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Public Health Reviews

Year: 2020

Volume: 41

Issue: 1

Online publication date: 13/03/2020

Acceptance date: 18/02/2020

ISSN (electronic): 2107-6952

Publisher: BioMed Central Ltd.


DOI: 10.1186/s40985-020-00119-4