Background: Parental support plays an important role in facilitating the participation of children in physical activity. However, there is evidence that parents overestimate their child’s level of physical activity – this may lead to inaction in promotion attempts by parents. This potential disconnect between parental perceptions and reality was recently the focus of the ‘Think Again’ social marketing campaign developed by PartipACTION.

Purpose: To qualitatively explore parents’ perceptions of the Think Again advertisements, and the possible disconnect between perceptions and reality regarding their children’s physical activity levels.

Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 mothers and 12 fathers of children aged 5-11 years attending a supervised recreation class. A thematic analysis was applied to the collected data.

Results: The advertisements were generally well received by the parents in serving as a reminder of how much physical activity their children should be getting. Less than half of parents believed their children were attaining physical activity guidelines although the majority believed they were sufficiently active given perceived time constraints for both them and their child. Most parents believed they could accurately estimate how active their child was but that other parents may have difficulty due to reliance on schools and organized recreation to provide opportunities for physical activity.

Conclusion: PSAs have a role to play in increasing parental awareness of physical activity guidelines and communicating the importance of physical activity. More creative approaches will be needed to address the disconnect in the perceptions between sufficient and recommended levels of physical activity.

Key Take Away Points

Research demonstrates that the majority of parents overestimate the physical activity of their children. Reasons for this disconnect are explored in the current study. Our findings highlight the potential challenge in effectively addressing parental overestimation of children’s physical activity. The majority of parents believed that their children were engaged in sufficient amounts of physical activity each day even though their children were not necessarily meeting physical activity guidelines. Future educational campaigns could adopt a family regulatory approach in promoting strategies that may overcome the time and scheduling barriers many parents face.

Author Biography

Dr. Guy Faulkner is a professor at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. He has published extensively in the fields of active school transport, mental health impacts of physical activity, exercise psychology and smoking cessation. He is Co-editor in Chief of the Mental Health and Physical Activity journal.

Vaeda Solomon is a student in physiotherapy at the University of Toronto. She has a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education (BPHE) degree from the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Tanya Berry is a Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion and associate professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta. She studies the effects of health messaging on cognitions and behaviour.

Dr Sameer Deshpande is an Associate Professor of Marketing in the Faculty of Management and a member of the Centre for Socially Responsible Marketing at the University of Lethbridge, Canada. Over past 15 years Sameer has worked on numerous social marketing research projects. In addition to conducting research and publishing its findings in academic journals, Sameer has also conducted training programmes and offered consultancy on social marketing topics to nonprofit, government, and corporate sector in India, Canada, Australia, U.S., and U.K.

Dr Amy E. Latimer-Cheung is a Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion and Disability and assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University. The overarching goal of her research program is to increase physical activity participation among adults with a mobility impairment in an effort to minimize disability and maximize quality of life.

Dr. Ryan Rhodes holds a Canadian Cancer Society Senior Scientist award and is a professor and the Director of the Behavioural Medicine Laboratory at the University of Victoria, School of Exercise Science. He is a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, and Associate Editor at Health Psychology and Exercise and Sports Sciences Reviews. Dr. Rhodes has over 200 peer-reviewed publications and has given over 300 conference presentations.

Dr. John C. Spence is a Professor and Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation at the University of Alberta. His research examines behavioural and environmental determinants of physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Dr. Mark Tremblay is the Director of the HALO group and he is also a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Ottawa with a cross-appointment in the School of Human Kinetics. He is the Chief Scientific Officer of Active Healthy Kids Canada and has led the publication of the new Canadian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior Guidelines. Dr. Tremblay has over 200 peer-reviewed publications and has given over 450 conference presentations.


This study was supported in part by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) operating grant.