Predicting school uptake of The Daily Mile in Northern Ireland- a data linkage study with School Census Data and Multiple Deprivation Measures

Gavin Breslin, Medbh Hillyard, Noel Brick, Stephen Shannon, Brenda McKay-Redmond, Mark Shevlin, Barbara McConnell

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BACKGROUND: Participating in physical activity benefits health, yet a majority of children remain inactive. The Daily Mile™ (TDM) originated in Scotland in 2012 with the aim of increasing primary school children's physical fitness. Despite being a practically feasible and popular initiative, it remains unclear the extent to which schools implement TDM, and whether TDM core principles are adhered to (i.e., run or jog at least 3-days per week). In Northern Ireland it is unknown how many schools regularly participate in TDM, and whether there is an association between TDM participation with school type, school location, size, total number of children attending the school, school deprivation level, and/or motivation as measured by the COM-B model (Capabilities, Opportunities, Motivation model of behaviour). Therefore, this study aimed to quantify the uptake of TDM in Northern Ireland, assess whether schools are following the core principles, and analyse if there is an association between aforesaid demographic factors and TDM participation.

METHODS: An online cross-sectional survey was sent to all primary and special education schools in Northern Ireland with the support of the Education Authority for Northern Ireland and the Public Health Agency for Northern Ireland. The survey was completed by the school principal or teacher, and was available from 31st August until 16th December 2022. Survey results were linked with the 2021/2022 Northern Ireland School Census Data and Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure 2017. Quantitative and qualitative questions were included in the survey to assess participation and implementation of TDM.

RESULTS: The survey received 609 school responses. After data cleaning, and removal of duplicates from schools a sample of 358 primary schools (45%) and 19 special education schools (47.5%) was analysed. Over half (54.7%) of primary schools and 36.8% of special education schools reported taking part in TDM. More special education needs schools reported taking part in their own version of an 'active mile' rather than TDM formally, and qualitative findings showed TDM was not perceived as appropriate for many children in special educational settings. There was wide variation in adherence to TDM core principles. A multivariate binary logistic regression model was fitted to the data, but it was not statistically significant (χ2(17) = 22.689, p = .160). However, univariate effects showed that increasing levels on COM-B (Capability) was associated with increased likelihood of TDM participation (OR = 2.506), and Catholic Maintained schools were almost twice as likely as Controlled schools to be delivering TDM (OR = 1.919). There was no association found between deprivation and TDM uptake.

CONCLUSION: Encouragingly over 50% of schools in Northern Ireland reported taking part in TDM. However, despite being a low-cost and practically feasible physical activity initiative, further intervention work with sound research methodology is needed to promote adherence to TDM core principles to maximise benefits to children's health. Furthermore, concerted efforts are required to adjust TDM so that it is inclusive for all educational settings, and children's abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0294648
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Early online date14 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 14 Dec 2023

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Breslin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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