Background: In a gender-based approach, data are analyzed with the awareness that gender roles and social expectations need also be examined. Gender, the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women, is an important element contributing to women’s physical inactivity.
Program background: The Healthy By Design Coalition in Yellowstone County, Montana, aims to create a community that embraces a culture of health and well-being. The Healthy By Design Health Equity Workgroup focuses on increasing health equity, including addressing gender-based health disparities. A gender-based approach was utilized to develop an intervention and social marketing campaign to increase leisure-time physical activity for women.
Evaluation Methods and Results: In 2011, with funding from the Office on Women’s Health’s Coalition for a Healthier Community, the Healthy By Design Coalition began a gender analysis to determine gender-based disparities for health in Yellowstone County. Using the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine Gender Analysis framework, sex-disaggregated data from the Yellowstone County Community Health Needs Assessment were examined to determine disparities. Women reported a statistically significant lack of leisure-time physical activity (27.2%) as compared to men’s reports of inactivity (17.4%). As part of the gender analysis, focus groups were conducted to gain a deeper understanding of the identified sex-based disparities in women’s and men’s physical activity levels. Thirteen focus groups were conducted between January 28, 2011, and April 6, 2011. All sessions were electronically recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using inductive analysis procedures. Several gender-based constraints emerged including women’s roles as caregiver which left little time or energy for physical activity, women’s leisure time activities and hobbies such as knitting and reading which were less active than men’s hobbies, and expectations for women’s appearance which made them uncomfortable sweating in front of strangers. Gender-based opportunities included women’s enjoyment of activity as a social connection, less rigid gender roles for younger women, and a sense of responsibility to set a good example for their families.
Conclusions: Women viewed physical activity in terms of structured exercise in a gym. They reported a lack of time for formal exercise due to caregiving responsibilities and household chores. These gender-based activities were not viewed as physical activity. In addition, women reported a strong sense of responsibility to role model healthy behavior for their families, but when time was limited felt the need to take care of others first. Utilizing these findings, a social marketing campaign was developed to focus on gender-based activities women engaged in, but did not consider to be physical activity. The campaign theme, “It all adds up” was designed to focus on accumulated activity which would be less likely to be derailed by gender-based caregiving role expectations.
Implications for research and/or practice: While time is frequently mentioned as a barrier to physical activity for women, a deeper understanding of gender roles and activities provides a framework for developing a social marketing campaign to encourage accumulated physical activity that accommodates gender-based roles and expectations.