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Open Access Research article

Characteristics of control group participants who increased their physical activity in a cluster-randomized lifestyle intervention trial

Lauren A Waters*, Marina M Reeves, Brianna S Fjeldsoe and Elizabeth G Eakin

Author Affiliations

The University of Queensland, School of Population Health, Cancer Prevention Research Centre, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-27

Published: 11 January 2011



Meaningful improvement in physical activity among control group participants in lifestyle intervention trials is not an uncommon finding, and may be partly explained by participant characteristics. This study investigated which baseline demographic, health and behavioural characteristics were predictive of successful improvement in physical activity in usual care group participants recruited into a telephone-delivered physical activity and diet intervention trial, and descriptively compared these characteristics with those that were predictive of improvement among intervention group participants.


Data come from the Logan Healthy Living Program, a primary care-based, cluster-randomized controlled trial of a physical activity and diet intervention. Multivariable logistic regression models examined variables predictive of an improvement of at least 60 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity among usual care (n = 166) and intervention group (n = 175) participants.


Baseline variables predictive of a meaningful change in physical activity were different for the usual care and intervention groups. Being retired and completing secondary school (but no further education) were predictive of physical activity improvement for usual care group participants, whereas only baseline level of physical activity was predictive of improvement for intervention group participants. Higher body mass index and being unmarried may also be predictors of physical activity improvement for usual care participants.


This is the first study to examine differences in predictors of physical activity improvement between intervention group and control group participants enrolled in a physical activity intervention trial. While further empirical research is necessary to confirm findings, results suggest that participants with certain socio-demographic characteristics may respond favourably to minimal intensity interventions akin to the treatment delivered to participants in a usual care group. In future physical activity intervention trials, it may be possible to screen participants for baseline characteristics in order to target minimal-intensity interventions to those most likely to benefit. (Australian Clinical Trials Registry, webcite, ACTRN012607000195459)