Does providing everyone with free-of-charge organised exercise opportunities work in public health?

Paolo Candio, David Meads, Andrew J. Hill, Laura Bojke

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Background and purpose: Population-level initiatives of free-of-charge organised exercise have been implemented to encourage residents to take up regular physical activity. However, there exists a paucity of evidence on the ability of these interventions to attract and engage residents, especially targeted subgroups. Seeking to contribute to this evidence base, we evaluated a proportionate universal programme providing free exercise sessions, Leeds Let's Get Active.

Methods: Descriptive statistics were used to summarise the programme data and participants. Time to event, count and logistic regression models examined how different population subgroups engaged with the programme in terms of number of entries, weekly participation rates and drop-off patterns.

Results: 51,874 adult residents registered to the programme and provided baseline data (2013–2016). A small proportion (1.6%) attended the free sessions on a weekly basis. Higher participation rates were estimated for the groups of males, retired and non-inactive participants. A neighbourhood-level deprivation status was found to have no marginal effect on the level and frequency of participation, but to be negatively associated with participation drop-off (HR 0.93, 95% CI 0.89–0.97, p = 0.001).

Conclusions: Providing everyone with free-of-charge organised exercise opportunities in public leisure centres located in deprived areas can attract large volumes of residents, but may not sufficiently encourage adults, especially inactive residents and those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, to take up regular exercise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-142
Number of pages14
JournalHealth Policy
Issue number2
Early online date8 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Free exercise
  • Inequalities
  • Programme attendance
  • Proportional universal programmes
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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