People with Low Incomes and Minorities Provide Insight Into Challenges of Exercising

Focus group sessions on the physical activity practices, knowledge, and attitudes of the underserved

Priscilla J. Murphy, a discussion facilitator and former nurse educator for a Medicaid managed care provider, explored the practices, knowledge and attitudes regarding physical activity through four focus groups: mothers on welfare, chronically ill adults, senior citizens and low-income, minority women.

These and other underserved groups often experience unique challenges — both environmental and individual — to becoming physically active. To inform its work in health and behavior, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) wanted to understand the circumstances that contribute to and hinder the creation of physical-activity-friendly communities and underserved populations' participation in physical activities.

Murphy conducted four focus group sessions in predominantly low-income, minority areas in and near Philadelphia, Pa., asking the participants nine questions about their physical-activity practices and preferences and what incentives, messages and neighborhood changes might motivate them to exercise more. Each session lasted approximately two hours and was made up of 10 to 15 individuals recruited from one of the four groups.

Key Findings

In addition to transcribing the tape-recorded sessions, the project director provided RWJF with brief summaries/analyses of the groups' responses, including the following:

  • Mothers on welfare and the chronically ill cited "cleaning their homes, chasing after children and walking" as the physical activity they preferred. Because of the areas in which they reside, most had difficulty thinking about what exercise they truly like to do.
  • Asked what changes would encourage exercise in their neighborhoods, low-income, minority women wanted affordable programs, the involvement of family and friends, safer communities and fast-food restaurants "removed or required to sell and serve healthy meals." Mothers on welfare echoed the need for affordable programs and safe communities.
  • The chronically ill said a better health system of "good doctors" and "free access to programs and up-to-date equipment" would encourage them to exercise regularly. Pain and medical conditions such as high blood pressure often prohibited exercise.
  • The elderly wanted "someone to pick them up from their homes and get them involved in an exercise program," and in general, they wanted young adults to be involved in helping them live a fuller, less isolated life.
  • All groups stressed that physical activity messages should show people like themselves in color, condition and shape, and with real-life stresses.

Funding

RWJF provided $9,627 to support the project from November to December 1999.