Research Activities March 2013, No. 391

Cultural myths may prevent low-income black women from exercising during pregnancy

Disparities/Minority Health

Black women are at higher risk for obesity and physical inactivity during pregnancy than other groups of women. Cultural myths may prevent low-income black women from exercising during pregnancy, suggests a study by University of Pittsburgh researchers. They conducted a series of six focus group discussions with 34 low-income pregnant black women about their beliefs about exercise during pregnancy. Three major themes emerged from these discussions: (1) black women had a broad definition of what types of activities constituted exercise, (2) they believed that exercise was generally beneficial during pregnancy, and (3) certain types of activities or movements could cause problems with pregnancy.

The women in this study overwhelmingly believed that exercise has a positive impact on pregnancy. They often defined exercise as an activity of daily living such as housework and childcare in contrast to an activity performed outside of their daily routine. The researchers concluded that a lack of knowledge concerning the benefits of exercise is not a major contributor to inactivity among pregnant black women. However, a lack of detailed information about the type, frequency, and duration of exercise that is safe to perform during pregnancy prevented some women from exercising. The women also described several cultural myths regarding certain types of activity during pregnancy. For example, women in each of the focus groups described hesitation and concern about performing activities that would require them to place their arms over their heads. They were concerned that the umbilical cord would wrap around the baby’s neck resulting in the strangulation and death of the fetus. The researchers believe that inquiring about cultural beliefs and dispelling misperceptions would reassure women and increase the types of exercise like stretching and yoga during pregnancy that black women engage in. This study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13913).

See "Low-income African American women’s beliefs regarding exercise during pregnancy," by Elizabeth E. Krans, M.D., and Judy C. Chang, M.D., in Maternal and Child Health Journal 16, pp. 1180-1187, 2012.


Page last reviewed March 2013
Page originally created March 2013
Internet Citation: Cultural myths may prevent low-income black women from exercising during pregnancy. Content last reviewed March 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.