Application of theoretical domains framework to explore the enablers and barriers to physical activity among university staff and students: a qualitative study

Lawrence Bismarck Ndupu, Vicki Staples, Sigrid Lipka, Mark Faghy, Nawel Bessadet, Chris Bussell

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Physical inactivity is one of the major risk factors for developing several chronic illnesses. However, despite strong evidence indicating the health benefits of physical activity, many university staff and students tend to be physically inactive. University settings provide a stable environment where behaviour change interventions can be implemented across multiple levels of change. The aim of this study is to examine the perceived barriers and enablers to physical activity among staff and students in a university setting, using the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF), a precursor of COM-B behaviour model. Methods: This was a qualitative study carried out at a Midlands University in the United Kingdom. Eight group interviews were conducted with the sample (n = 40) consisting of 6 male and 15 female university staff (mean age = 40.5 ± 10.6 years) with different job roles (e.g., academic, administrative, cleaning and catering staff), and 12 male and 7 female students (mean age = 28.6 ± 4.7 years) at different stages of study (e.g., undergraduate, postgraduate, and international students). Interviews were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and imported into NVivo12 software, responses were mapped using the TDF where theory-driven deductive content analysis was used for data analysis. Results: Six prominent domains were identified from the group interviews as enablers and/or barriers to physical activity among university staff and students: Environmental context and resources; intentions; social influences; knowledge; beliefs about capabilities; and social/professional role and identity. The themes emerging from the group interviews fit into all 14 domains of the TDF; however, 71% of the themes fit into the six most prominent domains. Conclusions: These findings suggest that several enablers and barriers influence university staff and students’ capability, opportunity, and motivation to engage in physical activity. This study, therefore, provides a theoretical foundation to inform the development of bespoke interventions to increase physical activity among inactive university staff and students.
Original languageEnglish
Article number670
Number of pages17
JournalBMC Public Health
Issue number1
Early online date11 Apr 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.


  • Research
  • University setting
  • COM-B model
  • Predictors
  • Content analysis
  • Group interview


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