Presentation at the 2009 Active Living Research Annual Conference
Research indicates that African-American, Latino, Native American, Asian and Pacific Islander girls, and girls living in low-income communities are less physically active than their male and White female peers. Consequently ethnic minority girls are particularly vulnerable to obesity and other chronic diseases associated with inactivity. To date, the majority of U.S. physical activity research has broadly examined groups within the ethno-racial pentagon--European American/Caucasian, Latino, African American, Asian American, and Native American. Little is known about the beliefs, needs, desires, and barriers related to physical activity of specific sub-populations that are likely not captured by the pentagon--including first generation immigrants, refugees, and ethnic minorities who inhabit the landscape of many U.S. communities (e.g., Hmong, East Africans, Middle Eastern). A dearth of information exists regarding culturally relevant physical activities that meet the needs and desires of diverse sub-populations of girls who fail to benefit developmentally and have disparate health outcomes due to inactivity.
Researchers suggest the inclusion of girls’ voices and experiences are essential when developing and providing physical activity programming and sustaining participation (Felton et al., 2005). Developing physically active girls is a significant public health issue, and using research as a pathway to knowledge is one solution. The purpose of this study was to explore East African girls’ experiences with and beliefs about physical activity and their suggestions for promoting active living.
Explore East African girls’ physical activity preferences
Identify the barriers and antecedents that prevent and/or limit East African girls’ participation in physical activity within their communities
Identify what facilitates East African girls’ participation in physical activity within their communities
Use results to make policy recommendations and work with community members and organizations to increase culturally relevant physical activity opportunities and promote active living for East African girls
Methods: Research Design: An exploratory action research design was employed using semi-structured focus group interviews. Qualitative narrative exploration of East African girls’ life experiences with physical activity utilizing an action research methodology is appropriate when a desired phenomenon is under-explored (Creswell, 2003).
Sample: East African girls (n=19) 12-18 years of age who resided in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro Area and are current U.S. citizens were interviewed. All girls were practicing Muslims.
Data Collection & Procedures: Institutional Review Board approval for human subjects was obtained. Interviews averaging 30 minutes were transcribed verbatim, then imported into NVIVO (v. 7) for analysis. Trustworthiness was increased through investigator triangulation, reflexivity journaling, and peer debriefing (Patton, 2002)
East African girls perceive a wide variety of physical activities to be culturally relevant. While they enjoy and/or would like to try many activities, the girls most frequently discussed swimming, followed by fitness activities, dance, and non-organized sport as the most culturally relevant physical activities. Girls overwhelmingly expressed a desire to participate in one of the most body-revealing physical activities, swimming, which is in opposition to what is deemed culturally appropriate for females in the East African culture. While some girls did want competitive organized sport opportunities, the majority of girls were more interested in less competitive physical activity opportunities.
A variety of personal, social, structural, environmental, and cultural barriers were identified, which preclude and influence East African girls’ physical activity participation. Current research specifies the link between poverty and area of residence, lack of community involvement, program sustainability, and family engagement--all which are major barriers that limit and prevent participation in physical activity for girls, resulting in disparate health and developmental outcomes. While many of the barriers identified in this study are consistent with previous research, several barriers (e.g., privacy in regard to covering body and hair in front of men, gender stereotypes, lack of coaches with cultural understanding, lack of parental support) and the intersections of barriers may be unique to East African girls. Young Muslim women who participate in sport challenge gender, religious, and cultural norms and therefore risk disapproval of family and peers, or are sometimes sanctioned or harassed (Walseth, 2006). This appeared to be true for girls in the current study. Barriers and strategies derived by East African girls for increasing physical activity will be presented, and future implications discussed.
It is clear that East African girls care deeply about maintaining cultural norms and religious beliefs, but also have a deep desire to be physically active. Understanding their experiences and needs, along with this complex web of barriers, is necessary in order to help increase physical activity and decrease health disparities through the creation of culturally relevant physical activity programming for girls.
This project was funded by The Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research