Factors influencing level of physical activity among Canadian women

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Physical inactivity is common among Canadian women of varying ethnicities and immigrant status [14]. This sedentary lifestyle plays a significant role in the health status of those women who are further disadvantaged by low socio-economic status [5]. A 22 year Canadian cohort study recently identified women, and especially those disadvantaged with respect to income and education, as the likeliest to experience decreasing trajectories of leisure time physical activity over their lifetimes [6]. Additionally, there is also evidence that both motherhood [78] and socio-economic status [69] are strong predictors of physical inactivity.

In 1974 the Lalonde Report in Canada recognized physical activity (as a sub-domain of lifestyle) as one of the four major determinants of health [10]. Recent research summarizing twenty year trends in leisure time physical activity (LTPA) among Canadian adults has suggested that despite an increase in the proportion of active Canadian adults over the last 2 decades, there has been an increase in the prevalence of self-reported inactivity-related diseases [11]. It has been suggested that more physical activity research should include domain specific physical activities (e.g. occupational, daily living) [11] and how activity in these domains may influence PA behaviour of socio-economically disadvantaged (SED) women [7]. Implicit in these suggestions is the need to address the individual, social and environmental determinants of physical activity so as to reduce the social inequalities and disparities of access [1213]. Both the Integrated Pan-Canadian Healthy Living Strategy [14] and the Women’s Health Surveillance Report of the Canadian Institute of Health Research [9] have detailed specific recommendations for increased research to understand and to address these determinants of physical activity for SED mothers who may have limited opportunities to be physically active.

Because existing data provide little insight into the physical activity contexts of mothers of varying ethnicities and immigrant status living under socio-economically disadvantaged (SED) conditions in Canada, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS) undertook a two year project (2007 to 2009) with the objective of identifying the individual, social and environmental factors that influence physical activity levels and choices of urban multiethnic SED mothers. Focus group discussions were conducted with multiethnic SED mothers and female health and recreation professionals (HRPs) involved in community physical activity programming for multiethnic SED mothers. The intent was to identify the individual, social and environmental factors that influence both utilitarian (daily living activities, including occupation) and LTPAs of urban multiethnic SED mothers. A secondary objective was to understand the type and amount of physical activity of multiethnic SED mothers in each of these domains and to characterize their psychosocial determinants of LTPA (perceived barriers, social support and self-efficacy) using the women specific Kaiser Physical Activity Survey (KPAS) tool [15]. An outcome of this project was the development of tools to assist HRPs in the planning and development of LTPA programs for SED mothers within their respective communities.