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Unit information: Physical Activity , Disease and Public Health in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Physical Activity , Disease and Public Health
Unit code PHEDM4013
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Armstrong
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit will critically review the role of inactivity in the aetiology of disease and the role of physical activity in the prevention and management of disease, highlighting the different roles of exercise at different life stages. The unit will review key issues in identifying the optimal physical activity recommendation for public health, enabling students to understand the links between physical activity and health for people of all ages and across a range of lifestyles and backgrounds.

To develop understanding of:

  1. the role of physical activity and inactivity in the aetiology of chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer and mental health problems.
  2. the biological mechanisms through which physical activity may operate to prevent chronic disease.
  3. physical activity in the maintenance of health and physical function through the lifespan and the strategies which may be employed to help optimise physical activity for health.
  4. the role of physical activity in the management of chronic disease.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  1. Be familiar with and able to critically appraise the theory and evidence base for physical activity in the aetiology of chronic disease, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, osteoporosis and mental disorders.
  2. Understand the key issues involved in optimising health at different life stages and transitions including childhood and adolescence, middle age and older age and in groups such as ethnic populations.
  3. To develop the skills necessary to design and evaluate strategies which are effective in optimising physical activity for health within populations.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be via face to face lectures and small group work in which students will work together to discuss research evidence for the public health guidelines for physical activity. Students will be required to prepare brief presentations for feedback to peers.

Assessment Information


Write a critical review of the evidence for the role of physical activity OR physical fitness in the prevention and/or management of one of the chronic diseases covered in this unit.

The student will choose a topic to fit their interests e.g., focus on a particular population group (e.g. defined by age, gender, health status) or choose to discuss epidemiology, biological mechanism or exercise recommendations for management.

The total assignment length is the equivalent of 4,000 words. This should comprise 3,000 words of written text, one table collating the key information about the studies described and 1 figure to illustrate an aspect of the evidence.

Students should carry out this assignment using research papers and try to compare and contrast the different studies contributing to the evidence base with regard to issues such as design, population, intervention and outcome.


Students should prepare (but not present) a 35-40 minute presentation using PowerPoint (approx 20-30 slides) to deliver to a group of practitioners (e.g. GPs, dietitians, or other health professionals). The presentation must:


Review the evidence for the role of physical activity OR physical fitness, in the prevention OR management, of one of the chronic diseases covered in this unit


Review the evidence for the role of physical activity OR physical fitness in the enhancement and preservation of physical function. For the presentation assignment students need to produce:

  • A 1-2 page extended summary of the aim and learning outcomes of the presentation
  • A black and white printout of their PowerPoint slides in note page format. Notes to include:
  • Purpose of the slide
  • The evidence that supports the slide
  • The source for the evidence

Reading and References

Cardiovascular Disease: Diet, Nutrition and Emerging Risk Factors. Stanner S (ed). Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford. ISBN 1-4051-0166-0.

Pate, R.R., Pratt, M., Blair, S.N., Haskell, W.M., Macera, C.A., Bouchard, C., et al. (1995). Physical activity and public health: recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine. J.A.M.A. 273: 402-7.

'At least five a week: Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health'. A report from the Chief Medical Officer. April 2004. (Can be downloaded from

Dose-Response Issues Concerning Physical Activity and Health: an Evidence-Based Symposium. (2001). Med. Sci. Sports. Exerc. 33 (6); Supplement.

Powers, S.K. & Howley, E.T. (2001). Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance (4th ed). New York; McGraw-Hill.

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (1996). Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta,GA; U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services.

Dishman RK, Heath GW and Lee I-M (2013) Physical Activity Epidemiology, Human Kinetics, USA