Getting England to be more physically active: are the Public Health Responsibility Deal’s physical activity pledges the answer?

The Public Health Responsibility Deal (RD) in England is a public-private partnership involving voluntary pledges between government, industry, and other organisations to improve public health by addressing alcohol, food, health at work, and physical activity. This paper analyses the RD physical activity (PA) pledges in terms of the evidence of their potential effectiveness, and the likelihood that they have motivated actions among organisations that would not otherwise have taken place.
We systematically reviewed evidence of the effectiveness of interventions proposed in four PA pledges of the RD, namely, those on physical activity in the community; physical activity guidelines; active travel; and physical activity in the workplace. We then analysed publically available data on RD signatory organisations’ plans and progress towards achieving the physical activity pledges, and assessed the extent to which activities among organisations could be attributed to the RD.
Where combined with environmental approaches, interventions such as mass media campaigns to communicate the benefits of physical activity, active travel in children and adults, and workplace-related interventions could in principle be effective, if fully implemented. However, most activities proposed by each PA pledge involved providing information or enabling choice, which has limited effectiveness. Moreover, it was difficult to establish the extent of implementation of pledges within organisations, given that progress reports were mostly unavailable, and, where provided, it was difficult to ascertain their relevance to the RD pledges. Finally, 15 % of interventions listed in organisations’ delivery plans were judged to be the result of participation in the RD, meaning that most actions taken by organisations were likely already under way, regardless of the RD.
Irrespective of the nature of a public health policy to encourage physical activity, targets need to be evidence-based, well-defined, measurable and encourage organisations to go beyond business as usual. RD physical activity targets do not adequately fulfill these criteria.

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