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Exploring the use of a gamified intervention for encouraging physical activity in adolescents: a qualitative longitudinal study in Northern Ireland
  1. Rekesh Corepal1,
  2. Paul Best2,
  3. Roisin O’Neill1,
  4. Mark A Tully1,
  5. Mark Edwards3,
  6. Russell Jago3,
  7. Sarah J Miller2,
  8. Frank Kee1,
  9. Ruth F Hunter1
  1. 1 UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health/Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  2. 2 Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation, School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  3. 3 Centre for Exercise Nutrition and Health Sciences, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ruth F Hunter; ruth.hunter{at}


Objective To explore the temporal changes of adolescents’ views and experiences of participating in a gamified intervention to encourage physical activity behaviour and associated processes of behaviour change.

Design A qualitative longitudinal design was adopted whereby focus groups were conducted with the same participants in each intervention school (n=3) at four time-points (baseline, end of each of two intervention phases and 1-year follow-up). The framework method was used to thematically analyse the data.

Setting Secondary schools (n=3), Belfast (Northern Ireland).

Participants A subsample (n=19 at four time-points) of individuals aged 12–14 years who participated in the StepSmart Challenge, a gamified intervention involving a pedometer competition and material rewards to encourage physical activity behaviour change.

Results Three core themes were identified: (1) competition; (2) incentives and (3) influence of friends. Participants indicated that a pedometer competition may help initiate physical activity but suggested that there were a number of barriers such as participants finding it ‘boring’, and feeling as though they had a remote chance of ‘winning’. ‘Incentives’ were viewed favourably, although there were participants who found not winning a prize ‘annoying’. Friends were a motivator to be more physically active, particularly for girls who felt encouraged to walk more when with a friend.

Conclusions The intervention in general and specific gamified elements were generally viewed positively and deemed acceptable. Results suggest that gamification may have an important role to play in encouraging adolescents to engage in physical activity and in creating interventions that are fun and enjoyable. The longitudinal approach added additional depth to the analysis as themes were refined and tested with participants over time. The findings also suggest that gamified Behaviour Change Techniques align well with core concepts of Self-determination Theory and that various game elements may require tailoring for specific populations, for example, different genders.

Trial registration number NCT02455986; Pre-results.

  • preventive medicine
  • public health
  • qualitative research

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt and build upon this work, for commercial use, provided the original work is properly cited. See:

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  • Contributors RFH had the initial idea for the study and led the writing of the grant with significant contribution from MAT and FK. RFH, PB, MAT and FK were involved in the design of the study. RC, PB and RO facilitated the focus group discussions. RC, PB, RO and ME were involved in the analysis of the data. All authors were involved in the interpretation of the data. All authors provided substantial comments on the drafts of the manuscript and approved the final version.

  • Funding The authors received funding from a HSC R&D (NI) Enabling Research Award. RFH is supported by a NIHR Career Development Fellowship and acknowledges funding support from the HSC Research and Development Division. The work was undertaken under the auspices of the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health Research Northern Ireland, which is funded by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust.

  • Disclaimer The funders had no role in study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, or writing of the report.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Science Research Ethics Committee (Queen’s University, Belfast) (Ref: 15.09).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement No additional data are available.

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it first published. The Open access licence has been changed to a CC BY licence.

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