Cultural influences


Cultural influences on physical activity and diet

In Blackburn with Darwen approximately 30% of the population are of South Asian origin.  Research shows black and Asian children are three times more likely to have an “obesogenic lifestyle” (lower physical activity, higher screen time, unhealthy diet) than white children3. In a study conducted at Liverpool John Moores University, we explored the cultural factors that influence children’s weight-related behaviours4,5,6. Below are some of the key findings, followed by some recommendations for practice:


  • Parents from some ethnic backgrounds (e.g. Black Somali, Asian Bangladeshi, Yemeni) view a larger body size as desirable, and are less concerned by the potential consequences of childhood obesity.  This is possibly due to the association of overweight with good health and wealth in certain cultures, and can lead some parents to want to “feed up” their children. 
  • Parents from certain ethnic backgrounds (e.g. Asian Bangladeshi, Yemeni) place a higher value on academic and cultural education than physical activity, which means time spent at faith schools, language classes and doing homework can leave little time for physical activity.   
  • Whilst Muslim girls are encouraged to be physically active, parents felt the dominant sports in the Western culture (e.g. football) did not fit with Islamic values for girls and women.  The importance of female-only physical activity facilities was highlighted.     
  • Some parents viewed cultural food practices as a barrier to healthy eating (e.g. eating from sharing platters, eating a lot of starchy and high-fat foods, eating a “late supper”, cooking with ghee)


  • Help parents understand the health consequences of unhealthy weight.
  • Recognise different cultural ideals and focus on health behaviours (i.e. physical activity and diet) rather than weight.
  • In cases where education takes priority over physical activity, help parents understand how being active can help a child’s concentration and cognitive development. 
  • Find out about local services that offer female-only physical activity sessions, and work with Muslim families to help them identify culturally-valued activities for their young girls.
  • Help families identify their cultural barriers to healthy eating and work with them to come up with suitable solutions (e.g. by identifying healthy substitutes for cooking ingredients).
  • Be aware of religious festivals (e.g. Ramadan) and the impact this may have on families’ dietary and physical activity behaviours.    


3Falconer, C. L., Park, M. H., Croker, H., Kessel, A. S., Saxena, S., Viner, R. M., & Kinra, S. (2014). Can the relationship between ethnicity and obesity-related behaviours among school-aged children be explained by deprivation? A cross-sectional study. BMJ open, 4(1), e003949.

4Trigwell, J., Watson, P., Murphy, R., Cable, T., Stratton, G. (2011). Addressing childhood obesity in black and racial minority (BRM) populations in Liverpool:Project Report. MerseyBEAT, Liverpool John Moores University.

5Trigwell, J., Watson, P. M., Murphy, R. C., Stratton, G., & Cable, N. T. (2014). Ethnic differences in parental attitudes and beliefs about being overweight in childhood. Health Education Journal, 73(2), 179-191.

6Trigwell, J., et al. (2015). "Parental views of children’s physical activity: a qualitative study with parents from multi-ethnic backgrounds living in England." BMC public health 15(1): 1005.