Children, young people & families programme, Health inequalities theme
Durham University (Fuse)
Early years; health inequalities; movement related behaviours- physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep; measurement
Sophie's PhD reflections
My PhD studentship has focused on assessing ways of measurement movement behaviour of pre-school aged children. ‘Movement behaviour’ encompasses the behaviours of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. These behaviours are important for the health and development of young children, however, the ability to measure these behaviours using appropriate measurement tools is important for research and practice in this area. During my PhD I have conducted systematic reviews (extensive searches of the available research on a topic) on the quality of measurement tools used to assess movement behaviour of pre-school aged children, to determine what tools exist and for what behaviours they are useful (and accurate!) at measuring. I have also conducted focus groups with parents and carers of pre-school aged children, where we had conversations on the acceptability and feasibility of a range of measurement tools used to assess movement behaviour of pre-school children. Through this, we were able to develop a series of practical recommendations on the measurement of these behaviours in young children, that were drawn directly from the views of parents and carers. Finally, I co-developed (with parents and carers of pre-school children and topic expert researchers) and conducted preliminary evaluation on a novel measurement tool that can be used to assess all movement behaviours of pre-school children, that would be suitable for use at scale and to determine adherence to recent movement behaviour guidelines for children of this age.
Through my PhD I have gained a plethora of research skills for public health research. I have had the opportunity to disseminate my research through articles in peer-reviewed journals, present at seminars and conferences locally and internationally, and have gained an extensive network of both academics, practice partners, and the public.
I have also had the opportunity to supervise research projects and be involved with wider research within the SPHR. This enabled me to advance my mentorship skills, and work on large scale projects with multidisciplinary researchers across multiple institutions.
What has been your career journey so far?
I worked in a primary school, before pursuing a BSc in Psychology at the University of Liverpool and a MSc in Health Psychology at Staffordshire University.
Why did you choose to do a PhD in public health research?
I was really keen to study a PhD in public health to contribute to the evidence base on physical activity and related behaviours, to help improve the health and well-being of children and young people. I was particularly interested in pursuing a PhD focusing on children in the early years due to this being such a fascinating and exciting age group, and such a critical period of life.
What is your research focused on?
My PhD research involves assessing options for the measurement of the movement related behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviours, sleep) of pre-school children. In particular, how these behaviours can be measured at a population/public health level. The research is taking place with individuals from socio-economically deprived communities.
Why is it important?
Measurement of the movement-related behaviours of pre-school aged children is important to estimate prevalence and trends in the behaviours, develop appropriate policies and programmes, determine how behaviours relate to other health, well-being and developmental indicators, and establish efficacy of interventions and initiatives aimed at changing these behaviours. However, the best way of measuring these behaviours of preschool-aged children at scale is currently unknown.
What do you like about being a part of the NIHR School for Public Health Research?
I enjoy being part of the NIHR SPHR community due to the opportunities to engage and work with other PhD students and academics from institutions across the school. Additionally, the research programmes and themes that make up the NIHR SPHR and the annual events that take place allow for wider learning and engagement with ongoing work relating to public health.
What skills have you learnt and/or are hoping to learn as part of your PhD?
During my PhD so far I have been able to advance some key skills, including further development of organisation skills, communication skills and qualitative research techniques. Further to this I have really valued the opportunity to engage in real world research, including working with early years educators, parents, carers and pre-school children. The opportunity to work alongside other organisations and large scale projects as part of my PhD has been a very insightful and valuable experience.
What do you hope to do after completing your PhD?
I hope to continue research with young children and their families, with a focus on health inequalities throughout the work. I am interested in pursuing further work around the measurement of the movement-related behaviours (physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep). However, I am also interested in research relating to health and development of young children, including examining the policy landscape.
Phillips, S.M., Summerbell, C., Hesketh, K.R., Saxena, S., Hillier-Brown, F.C. Parental Views on the Acceptability and Feasibility of Measurement Tools Used to Assess Movement Behaviour of Pre-School Children: A Qualitative Study. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 19, 3733. (2022). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19063733
Griffin, N., Phillips, S.M., Hillier-Brown, F. et al. A critique of the English national policy from a social determinants of health perspective using a realist and problem representation approach: the ‘Childhood Obesity: a plan for action’ (2016, 2018, 2019). BMC Public Health 21, 2284 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-021-12364-6
Phillips, S.M, Summerbell, C. Ball, H.L, Hesketh, K.R, Saxena, S. & Hillier-Brown, F. The Validity, Reliability, and Feasibility of Measurement Tools Used to Assess Sleep of Pre-school Aged Children: A Systematic Rapid Review. Frontiers in Pediatrics 9 (2021) 1320. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2021.770262
Phillips, S.M., Summerbell, C., Hobbs, M. et al. A systematic review of the validity, reliability, and feasibility of measurement tools used to assess the physical activity and sedentary behaviour of pre-school aged children. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 18, 141 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-021-01132-9
Moore THM, Tomlinson E, Spiga F, Higgins JPT, Gao Y, Caldwell DM, Nobles J, Dawson S, Ijaz S, Savovic J, Hodder RK, Wolfenden L, Jago R, Phillips S, Hillier-Brown F, Summerbell CD. Interventions to prevent obesity in children aged 5 to 11 years old. (2022). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD015328. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD015328.
Moore THM, Tomlinson E, Spiga F, Higgins JPT, Gao Y, Caldwell DM, Nobles J, Dawson S, Ijaz S, Savovic J, Hodder RK, Wolfenden L, Jago R, Phillips S, Hillier-Brown F, Summerbell CD. Interventions to prevent obesity in children aged 12 to 18 years old. (2022). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD015330. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD015330.
Phillips SM, Summerbell C, Ball H, Hesketh KR, Saxena S, & Hillier-Brown F. (2021). A rapid review of the validity, reliability and feasibility of measurement tools used to examine the sleep of pre-school aged children. PROSPERO CRD42021230900 Available from: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?ID=CRD42021230900
Muir C, McGovern R, Kaner E, Geijer-Simpson E, Smart D, Kidger J, Winstone L, Evans V, Phillips S, Salonen D, & Adams E. (2019). A systematic review of qualitative studies exploring lived experiences, impacts and coping strategies of children and young people affected by parental substance misuse. PROSPERO CRD42019137486 Available from: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?ID=CRD42019137486
Phillips S, Hillier-Brown F, Summerbell C, Muir C. Hobbs M. Hesketh K, & Saxena S. (2019). A systematic review of the validity, reliability and feasibility of measurement tools used to assess physical activity (PA) and sedentary behaviours (SB) of pre-school children. PROSPERO CRD42019133613 Available from: https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?ID=CRD42019133613
Presentation: International Congress on Obesity (2020), Phillips, S., Summerbell, C., Hobbs, M., Muir, C., Saxena, S., Hesketh. K.R., & Hilier-Brown, F. (2020). A systematic review of the utility, including validity, reliability and feasibility of measurement tools used to assess the physical activity and sedentary behaviours of pre-school children. Obesity Reviews, 21 (S1): 21.
Presentation: Durham University’s Postgraduate researcher faculty of Social Sciences and Health ‘Global challenges’ conference. ‘Using a social determinants of health perspective to explore health inequalities in national policy on childhood obesity’.
Additional funding and grants
Supervisor of SPHR Summer Intern 2021: Katie Beresford ‘Exploring the effectiveness of ‘Forest Schools’ on the health and development of pre-school aged children’.
Research briefing: A critique of the ‘Childhood Obesity: a plan for action’ English national policy using a social determinants of health perspective. https://tinyurl.com/2cd94bta
Research Briefing: How should we measure physical activity and sedentary behaviour of pre-school aged children? https://tinyurl.com/332bsb9w
Infographic: ‘Let’s Get Little Ones Moving!’ https://tinyurl.com/mr4c9pcy
‘Sophie completed a three month practice placement working at County Durham Sport, in collaboration with colleagues in the Durham Research Methods Centre and Department of Sport and Exercise Science, Durham University’: PhD researcher on secondment at County Durham Sport (January to March 2021) – Sophie Phillips (Durham University) – County Durham Sport
Research briefing: Measuring 24 hour movement of pre-school children: how do we measure sleep?
Sophie supervised SPHR Summer Intern, Katie Beresford, during her work on ‘Exploring the effectiveness of ‘Forest School’ on the health and development of pre-school aged children’.