Can we be nudged into moving more often?

Written by Dr Nicola Eccles

Some early findings around our ‘Environmental Nudges’ pilot project have begun to emerge.  What have we learnt about how people respond to nudges or prompts to encourage them to become more physically active?  Inspired? Annoyed? Apathetic?

In 2013 Hollands et al (1) noted that the way in which ‘choice architecture’ might work was lacking robust research evidence.  At CP Active we are about to produce the first national evaluation –Environmental Prompts or Nudges: placing prompts in and around communities and workplaces across the UK and conducting extensive research in order to establish the effectiveness.

Three sites were selected as hosts for our innovative project.  A secondary school, a council office and an academic institution in the North of England.   Our prompts were delivered in two phases: a ‘subliminal phase’ and a’ call to action’.  Each phase was installed for around three weeks.  Focus groups were conducted pre and post prompts. We also distributed a generic questionnaire to all staff in the host sites in order to establish how many people we reached with our prompts (with 114 respondents).

In two of these sites we have now completed our research and early analysis of focus groups suggests the following key points:

  • Our prompts were seen by 99.5% of people therefore our aim of ‘disruption’ was successful.
  • Our prompts were successful due to the fact they assumed individual choice, responsibility and possibility
  • The daily struggle is a reality for the majority. People have long working hours, many cannot replace the commute with an active option as they have responsibilities for dropping children off and some have additional responsibilities outside of running a home and working.
  • …as a consequence, leisure time is infrequent
  • The working day emerged as the greatest missed opportunity for physical activity
  • Exercise is a habit and information cannot really help people to shift from knowing into action
  • The presence of prompts acted as a gentle reminder for many who would class themselves as inactive
  • 27% of respondents in one site and 52% in the other site stated that as a response to the prompts they were now moving more in their daily life.
  • Simple solutions are often the most effective!

With thanks to Heart Research UK, The University of Huddersfield and Kirklees Council for supporting the pilot project.

If you are interested in establishing a prompt based intervention to enhance health in your community or workplace please contact nciolaeccles@cpactive.co.uk

1.      Hollands, G., Shemilt, I., Marteau. T., Jebb, S., Kelly. M.P., Nakamura’ R., Suhrcke. M., Ogilvie, D. (2013) Altering micro-environments to change population health behaviour: towards an evidence base for choice architecture interventions. BMC Public Health 2013 13:1218

CP Active, Environment