Funded PhD Opportunity Peer-led approaches to promote physical activity in adolescence

This opportunity is now closed.

Subject: Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism


Within the UK, many children and adolescents fail to meet the current physical activity guidelines and consequently are failing to achieve the associated health benefits. Schools have been identified as an ideal setting for the promotion of physical activity (Dobbins et al, 2013), however there is a need to develop innovative interventions to promote physical activity that do not focus on a ‘top down’ approach (Sebire et al, 2016). In adolescence, peers become a dominant influence on behaviour. Peer support, peer acceptance and the presence of friends/peers have all been shown to be positively associated with physical activity and should be considered in interventions targeted at this population (Fitzgerald et al., 2012). Identifying ways to increase social support for physical activity, particularly from peers, should be a priority for schools when trying to promote physical activity during school recess (Ridgers et al., 2012), for example, through peer mentoring schemes. To date, peer-led approaches have been shown to positively change other health-related behaviours in adolescents, including smoking and alcohol (Mellanby et al, 2000). However, there is limited evidence on the use of peer-led interventions to promote physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviours in youth.

This PhD studentship aims to investigate the influence of different peer-led approaches on physical activity and sedentary behaviours amongst adolescents. The proposed project will include a systematic review of the existing literature on peer-led interventions in youth. Qualitative research methods will be employed to explore the use of peer-led interventions within the school setting, and to identity strategies for recruiting and training peer leaders. This will be used to inform the development and delivery of a school-based intervention aimed at increasing levels of physical activity and decreasing sedentary behaviour.

The primary outcome measure (physical activity) will be measured objectively using accelerometers. A number of secondary outcome measures will also be assessed, including health related measures and psychosocial outcomes, including self-efficacy, social support and peer norms. This PhD would suit a graduate with an interest in physical activity and health.

The successful applicant is likely to have experience in working with children and adolescents, and the measurement of physical activity.


Dobbins M et al (2013) School-based physical activity programs for promoting physical activity and fitness in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2, CD007651. doi: 10.1002/14651858. CD007651.

Fitzgerald A et al (2012) Do peers matter? A review of peer and/or friends' influence on physical activity among American adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 35(4), 941-58.

Mellanby AR et al (2000) Peer-led and adult-led school health education: a critical review of available comparative research. Health Educ Res. 15(5):533-45.

Ridgers ND et al (2012) Physical activity during school recess: a systematic review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 43(3), 320-8.

Sebire SJ et al (2016) Protocol for a feasibility cluster randomised controlled trial of a peer-led school-based intervention to increase the physical activity of adolescent girls (PLAN-A). Pilot and Feasibility Studies. 2:2.

Essential Criteria

  • Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC)
  • Sound understanding of subject area as evidenced by a comprehensive research proposal
  • A comprehensive and articulate personal statement

Desirable Criteria

If the University receives a large number of applicants for the project, the following desirable criteria may be applied to shortlist applicants for interview.

  • First Class Honours (1st) Degree
  • Completion of Masters at a level equivalent to commendation or distinction at Ulster
  • Practice-based research experience and/or dissemination
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain
  • Work experience relevant to the proposed project
  • Publications - peer-reviewed
  • Publications record appropriate to career stage
  • Experience of presentation of research findings
  • Use of personal initiative as evidenced by record of work above that normally expected at career stage.


    Vice Chancellors Research Scholarships (VCRS)

    The scholarships will cover tuition fees and a maintenance award of £15,009 per annum for three years (subject to satisfactory academic performance). Applications are invited from UK, European Union and overseas students.


    The scholarship will cover tuition fees at the Home rate and a maintenance allowance of £15,009 per annum for three years. EU applicants will only be eligible for the fees component of the studentship (no maintenance award is provided).  For Non EU nationals the candidate must be "settled" in the UK.

Other information

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Key Dates

Submission Deadline
Monday 19 February 2018
Interview Date
March 2018

Contact Supervisor

Professor Marie Murphy

Other Supervisors

Apply online

Visit and quote reference number #237739 when applying for this PhD opportunity