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Socioeconomic inequalities in occupational, leisure-time, and transport related physical activity among European adults: A systematic review

Marielle A Beenackers1*, Carlijn BM Kamphuis1, Katrina Giskes123, Johannes Brug4, Anton E Kunst15, Alex Burdorf1 and Frank J van Lenthe1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health, Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, Netherlands

2 School of Public Health/Institute for Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

3 School of Medicine, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

4 Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam, Netherlands

5 Department of Public Health, AMC, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:116  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-9-116

Published: 19 September 2012



This study systematically reviewed the evidence pertaining to socioeconomic inequalities in different domains of physical activity (PA) by European region.


Studies conducted between January 2000 and December 2010 were identified by a systematic search in Pubmed, Embase, Web of Science, Psychinfo, Sportdiscus, Sociological Abstracts, and Social Service Abstracts. English-language peer-reviewed studies undertaken in the general population of adults (18–65 years) were classified by domain of PA (total, leisure-time including sport, occupational, active transport), indicator of socioeconomic position (education, income, occupation), and European region. Distributions of reported positive, negative, and null associations were evaluated.


A total of 131 studies met the inclusion criteria. Most studies were conducted in Scandinavia (n = 47). Leisure-time PA was the most frequently studied PA outcome (n = 112). Considerable differences in the direction of inequalities were seen for the different domains of PA. Most studies reported that those with high socioeconomic position were more physically active during leisure-time compared to those with low socioeconomic position (68% positive associations for total leisure-time PA, 76% for vigorous leisure-time PA). Occupational PA was more prevalent among the lower socioeconomic groups (63% negative associations). Socioeconomic differences in total PA and active transport PA did not show a consistent pattern (40% and 38% positive associations respectively). Some inequalities differed by European region or socioeconomic indicator, however these differences were not very pronounced.


The direction of socioeconomic inequalities in PA in Europe differed considerably by domain of PA. The contradictory results for total PA may partly be explained by contrasting socioeconomic patterns for leisure-time PA and occupational PA.

Socioeconomic; Inequalities; Physical activity; Systematic review; Europe