Rethinking physical activity communication: using focus groups to understand women's goals, values, and beliefs to improve public health

BMC Public Health. 2017 May 18;17(1):462. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4361-1.


Background: Communication about physical activity (PA) frames PA and influences what it means to people, including the role it plays in their lives. To the extent that PA messages can be designed to reflect outcomes that are relevant to what people most value experiencing and achieving in their daily lives, the more compelling and effective they will be. Aligned with self-determination theory, this study investigated proximal goals and values that are salient in everyday life and how they could be leveraged through new messaging to better support PA participation among women. The present study was designed to examine the nature of women's daily goals and priorities and investigate women's PA beliefs, feelings, and experiences, in order to identify how PA may compete with or facilitate women's daily goals and priorities. Preliminary recommendations are proposed for designing new PA messages that align PA with women's daily goals and desired experiences to better motivate participation.

Methods: Eight focus groups were conducted with White, Black, and Hispanic/Latina women aged 22-49, stratified by amount of self-reported PA (29 low active participants, 11 high active participants). Respondents discussed their goals, values, and daily priorities along with beliefs, feelings about and experiences being physically active. Data were collected, coded, and analyzed using a thematic analysis strategy to identify emergent themes.

Results: Many of the goals and values that both low and high active participants discussed as desiring and valuing map on to key principles of self-determination theory. However, the discussions among low active participants suggested that their beliefs, feelings, experiences, and definitions of PA were in conflict with their proximal goals, values, and priorities, also undermining their psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Conclusions: Findings from this study can be used to inform and evaluate new physical activity communication strategies that leverage more proximal goals, values, and experiences of happiness and success to better motivate PA among ethnically diverse low active women. Specifically, this research suggests a need to address how women's daily goals and desired experiences may undermine PA participation, in addition to framing PA as facilitating rather than competing with their daily priorities and desired leisure-time experiences.

Keywords: Communication; Exercise; Goals; Happiness; Messaging; Physical activity; Priorities; Self-determination theory; Values; Women.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Black or African American
  • Communication*
  • Ethnicity
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Goals*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Self Report
  • Women's Health*