Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis


Exercise Science

First Advisor

Sara Wilcox


Introduction: African American women, who have high rates of overweight and obesity, are also more susceptible to weight retention due to pregnancy than women of other races, leading to increased risk of health problems for mother and child. However, research into physical activity and nutritional barriers has not often included this population.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to elicit information about perceptions of appropriate gestational weight gain, challenges to avoiding excessive gestational weight gain, barriers and enablers to exercise and healthful eating during pregnancy, and interpersonal, institutional/organizational, community, and public policy influences on healthy weight gain during pregnancy in overweight and obese African American women. The ultimate goal of this work was to inform the development of interventions to prevent excessive gestational weight gain in African American women.

Methods: This study used a qualitative research approach. Fourteen women were recruited from each of the following time periods: early (N=4), mid- (N=5), and late (N=5) pregnancy. Each woman participated in an in-depth interview and completed a short demographic survey. Transcripts from interviews were coded by themes reflective of the social ecological model. Themes were compared across stages of pregnancy. NVivo qualitative data analysis software (QSR International, Doncaster, Victoria, Australia) was used to aid analysis.

Results: Many participants believed that appropriate gestational weight gain was greater than professional recommendations. Participants believed walking and swimming were safe during pregnancy but cited running, jogging, jumping around, and doing too much for one's body as unsafe during pregnancy. Intrapersonal factors were most frequently mentioned concerning barriers and risks to exercise, barriers to ideal weight gain, and motivators and benefits to exercise, healthy eating, and ideal weight gain. Interpersonal factors were the most frequently mentioned regarding barriers to healthy eating. The most common barriers to exercise and healthy eating and risks were pregnancy-induced fatigue, nausea, the perceived risk of preterm labor, cultural food choices, and the perceived risk to a woman's health and to the health of her baby from unhealthy eating. The most common motivators to exercise and healthy eating were controlling weight gain and improving the health of the pregnant woman and her baby.

Conclusion: African American women's overestimation of ideal gestational weight gain and common barriers and motivators to exercise and healthy eating during pregnancy, such as those reported, must be addressed in intervention studies, with the ultimate goal being to develop specific public health practices targeted at this population to reduce the overweight and obesity burden among African American women.


© 2010, Mary Cregger