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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The influence of cultural values on physical activity among female adolescents from the Indian diaspora Ramanathan, Subha


This study investigated how physical activity (PA) patterns among female adolescents from the Indian diaspora have been influenced by Indian traditions, beliefs and values. This research was conceived from a model of adolescent PA from Welk, Wood and Morss (2003), who studied the role of parents on PA using Social Cognitive Theory, and from a set of cultural values from Unger, Ritt-Olsen, Teran, Huang, Hoffman and Palmer (2002), who studied health risk behaviours. As parents are generally the foremost educators of cultural knowledge, their potentially concurrent influence on PA was a key area of interest for this project. The main research question was: What role do personal, peer, parental and cultural attitudes towards PA have on actual PA behaviour among female adolescents in Canada from the Indian diaspora? Six girls aged 15-18 participated in an individual interview followed by a focus group. While each one of them made distinct contributions to this research, there were shared experiences. PA was considered to be important for physical and mental health. Participants who felt strong affinity for Indian culture also linked PA to spiritual health; this theme of spirituality is a unique contribution to adolescent PA literature. Among all participants, PA was thought to strengthen relationships with family. Parents supported physical activities by playing games with their daughters and also provided encouragement and filled facilitative roles. When discussing Indian culture, participants indicated that males and females were raised to fulfill different roles: females were raised to become wives and mothers while males were taught to be independent. As expected, differentiated gender roles also emerged while discussing sporting behaviours. In general, boys were deemed more aggressive, assertive and competitive in PA; girls were perceived to promote fun-based learning environments. Popular media was cited as a major influence in differentially shaping boys’ and girls’ physiques. This study gave voice to a group of adolescent girls from the Indian diaspora while integrating existing literature on personal and parental attitudes towards physical activity with cultural values. Future research should address concepts of spiritual health and family values among adolescents from other diasporic subcultures in Canada.

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