Effectiveness of the Walking In ScHools (WISH) Study, a peer-led walking intervention for adolescent girls: Results of a cluster randomised controlled trial

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Background: Most adolescent girls fail to meet current physical activity guidelines. Physical activity behaviours track from childhood into adulthood and providing adolescent girls with opportunities to be physically active may have health benefits beyond childhood. The effects of walking interventions on adult cardiometabolic health are known, however less is understood about the potential of walking to promote physical activity in adolescents. Following the Walking In ScHools (WISH) feasibility study, this definitive trial aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a novel, low-cost, school-based walking intervention at increasing physical activity levels of adolescent girls (aged 12-14 years).
Methods: Female pupils were recruited from eighteen schools across the border region of Ireland and in Northern Ireland. In intervention schools (n=9), girls aged 15-18 years, were trained as walk leaders, and led the younger pupils in 10-15 min walks before school, at break and lunch recess. All walks took place in school grounds and pupils were encouraged to participate in as many walks as possible each week. The primary outcome measure was accelerometer determined total physical activity (counts per minutes, cpm).
Results: In total, 589 pupils were recruited to the study. At baseline, pupils engaged in a median (interquartile range (IQR)) 35.7 (21.2) mins moderate-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day and only 12% (n=66) of participants met physical activity guidelines (60 mins MVPA per day). The intervention was delivered for a mean (standard deviation (SD)) 19.9±0.97 weeks. The mean post-intervention total physical activity for the intervention group was 676cpm and 710cpm in the control group. Post-intervention total physical activity did not statistically differ between groups when adjusted for age, body mass index z-scores and baseline physical activity (mean difference, -33.5, 95% CI= -21.2 to 88.1; p=0.213).
Conclusions: ‘Scaling-up’ physical activity interventions is challenging and despite a promising feasibility study, the results of this fully powered trial suggest that in this context, the WISH intervention did not increase device measured physical activity. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, school environments have changed and although pupils enjoyed the programme, attendance at walks was low, indicating that there is a need to better understand how to implement interventions within schools.
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 19 Feb 2024

Bibliographical note

The WISH study is funded from INTERREG VA funding of €8.84 m (including 15% contribution from the Department of Health in NI and Republic of Ireland), which had been awarded to the HSC Research & Development Division of the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland and to the Health Research Board in Ireland for the Cross-border Healthcare Intervention Trials in Ireland Network (CHITIN) project. The funders had no role in the design or execution of the study, analysis, interpretation of the data or decision to submit results.


  • physical activity
  • walking
  • adolescent girls
  • peer-led
  • school-based
  • intervention
  • low-cost
  • behaviour change
  • Intervention
  • Low-cost
  • Physical activity
  • Peer-led
  • Behaviour change
  • Walking
  • School-based
  • Adolescent girls


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