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A systems thinking approach to understanding youth active recreation

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2022, 00:00 authored by Harriet KoortsHarriet Koorts, P M Salmon, C T V Swain, S Cassar, D Strickland, Jo SalmonJo Salmon
Active recreation contributes to child and adolescent physical activity, however, factors affecting uptake are poorly understood at the systems level. The aims of this study were: (1) to use systems analysis methods to understand youth active recreation in Victoria, Australia, (ii) identify potential system leverage points to enhance active recreation, and (iii) explore stakeholder views of systems analysis methods for informing practice and policy decision-making.

Phase 1: Umbrella review of systematic reviews (2013–2018), synthesising evidence for correlates, determinants and intervention evidence for promoting active recreation. Phase 2: Development of three systems models (ActorMap and two ActivMaps), depicting active recreation actors/organisations, correlates, determinants and intervention evidence. Phase 3: Development of causal loop diagrams (CLDs) and identification of leverage points based on the Action Scales Model. Phase 4: Model feedback via stakeholder interviews (n = 23; 16 organisations).

From the literature, 93 correlates and determinants, and 49 intervention strategies were associated with child and adolescent active recreation; the majority located at a social or individual level. Ten potential system leverage points were identified in the CLDs, which differed for pre-schoolers versus children and adolescents. Only time outdoors (an event leverage point) emerged for all age groups. Changes to the built and natural environment (i.e., land use planning, urban design) as a complete domain was a key structural leverage point for influencing active recreation in children and adolescents. Subject matter experts and stakeholder interviews identified 125 actors operating across seven hierarchical active recreation system levels in Victoria. Stakeholder interviews identified 12 areas for future consideration and recommendations for practice/policy influence.

Our findings underscore the need for dynamic models of system behaviour in active recreation, and to capture stakeholder influence as more than a transactional role in evidence generation and use. Effective responses to youth inactivity require a network of interventions that target specific leverage points across the system. Our models illustrate areas that may have the greatest system-level impact, such as changes to the built and natural environment, and they provide a tool for policy, appraisal, advocacy, and decision-making within and outside of government.



International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity



Article number



1 - 19


BioMed Central


London, Eng.







Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal