Kanwal and her children walking to school in Eastville.


Background information

Bristol Girls Can is a local campaign funded by Sport England and delivered by Bristol City Council’s Public Health Team. Our aim is to reduce the gender gap around physical activity by breaking down barriers around exercise and inspiring more women to get active in the city.

This latest chapter of the campaign focuses on engaging inactive mothers with young children, living in those areas with the greatest health inequalities across the city. Local data shows that women living in Bristol report significantly lower levels of physical activity than men, and women living in those areas with the greatest health inequalities of the city are even less likely to be active.

Research shows that motherhood has a hugely significant, mostly negative, impact on activity levels and that there is an emerging downward trend in activity levels over the last three years among women with two or more children. Many research sources also imply that that the activity levels of mothers have a significant correlation with the activity levels of their offspring. Therefore, encouraging mothers to be active could be argued as a key-way to improve the health across generations.

To inform the campaign, Bristol City Council commissioned Dr Fiona Spotswood from the University of Bristol and Professor Kitrina Douglas to explore mothers relationships with physical activity, their everyday lives, personal histories and feelings about the future. A mixture of online and face-to- face interviews were used to explore the experiences of women living in two identified areas of greatest inequality in Bristol. Research was conducted at various points during 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions were at their peak. Findings have been used for an Evidence Report for the Department of Health and Social Care on women’s health and the pandemic.

The research helped us to better understand the challenges women with young children face in engaging with physical activity, and insight into women’s everyday experiences informed the planning, design and provision of free physical activity sessions for mums and young children initially at two identified children centres in Bristol.

In 2021 a social marketing communications campaign was developed alongside the new service provision, in collaboration with a steering group of local mothers. The ‘small steps’ campaign is designed to engage and inspire inactive and somewhat active mums to take small steps to becoming more active.

Supporting research

Other supporting info