Policy and regulatory interventions aimed at creating environments more conducive to physical activity (PA) are an important component of strategies to improve population levels of PA. However, many potentially effective policies are not being broadly implemented. This study sought to identify potential policy/regulatory interventions targeting PA environments, and barriers/facilitators to their implementation at the Australian state/territory government level.
In-depth interviews were conducted with senior representatives from state/territory governments, statutory authorities and non-government organisations (n = 40) to examine participants': 1) suggestions for regulatory interventions to create environments more conducive to PA; 2) support for preselected regulatory interventions derived from a literature review. Thematic and constant comparative analyses were conducted.
Policy interventions most commonly suggested by participants fell into two areas: 1) urban planning and provision of infrastructure to promote active travel; 2) discouraging the use of private motorised vehicles. Of the eleven preselected interventions presented to participants, interventions relating to walkability/cycling and PA facilities received greatest support. Interventions involving subsidisation (of public transport, PA-equipment) and the provision of more public transport infrastructure received least support. These were perceived as not economically viable or unlikely to increase PA levels. Dominant barriers were: the powerful ‘road lobby’, weaknesses in the planning system and the cost of potential interventions. Facilitators were: the provision of evidence, collaboration across sectors, and synergies with climate change/environment agendas.
This study points to how difficult it will be to achieve policy change when there is a powerful ‘road lobby’ and government investment prioritises road infrastructure over PA-promoting infrastructure. It highlights the pivotal role of the planning and transport sectors in implementing PA-promoting policy, however suggests the need for clearer guidelines and responsibilities for state and local government levels in these areas. Health outcomes need to be given more direct consideration and greater priority within non-health sectors.