Tackling physical activity inequalities for South Asian girls: Understanding behaviour and co-developing new intervention approaches

   Faculty of Health Studies

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  Dr Daniel Bingham, Dr Halima Iqbal, Dr Sally Barber  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Being physically active is a core driver of health, fitness and wellbeing in children and young people [1,2] and helps to prevent chronic diseases in adulthood such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes [2]. Low levels of physical activity and high sedentary time can affect children’s cognitive, social, physical and emotional development, and lack of outdoor physical activity risks both children’s visibility as citizens and their physical safety [3]. In the UK most children and young people (70%) do not engage in sufficient levels of physical activity to protect their health [4,5]. Inequalities in physical activity are troubling; girls consistently have lower levels of physical activity than boys across all ages, and the gap widens with age [5]. Bradford data has also shown that children from ethnic minority groups have lower levels of physical activity compared to white British children [6] and this was particularly pertinent during the Covid-19 lockdown period [7]. Data from previous Bradford research projects have consistently found that South Asian girls have the greatest risk of being inactive [6,7,8], with only 22% meeting guidelines at age 7-11 years [9] (compared to 49% white British girls, 38% South Asian boys and 61% white British boys).

There is a paucity of research regarding correlates, determinants, barriers, and facilitators of physical activity for South Asian girls. There is also a lack of culturally appropriate interventions to support this group in changing their behaviour to become physically active and reap the associated health and wellbeing benefits.

This PhD studentship is a fantastic opportunity for a keen and motivated person to take a mixed methods approach to:

  1. Understand the modifiable factors associated with South Asian heritage girls’ physical activity levels.
  2. Understand the barriers and facilitators to changing these modifiable factors.
  3. Co-produce a culturally relevant and appropriate behaviour change intervention, based on relevant theories and behaviour change techniques to tackle physical inactivity in South Asian girls.

A key feature here is the opportunity to access two Born in Bradford cohort datasets, ‘Growing-up’ and ‘Age of Wonder’ which include both questionnaire data and accelerometery data from 1800 – 9,000 children and young people. Another key feature will be the use of qualitative methodologies (e.g. interviews, focus groups, observations) to understand barriers and facilitators to being physically active for South Asian girls, and also the use of co—production methodology and behaviour change theory to inform future intervention development. Throughout the PhD the student will work with community groups, and expert by experience groups to actively involve relevant stakeholders and the public as partners in identifying, prioritising, designing, conducting implementing, disseminating and evaluating research.

This PhD studentship is fully funded by the Bradford Institute for Health Research (BIHR), as part of the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre. As such, the student will benefit from working with colleagues from Bristol University; they will be able to link into a network of PhD students working with BRC and will benefit from appropriate training and development opportunities supported by the Bristol BRC. The University of Bradford, Faculty of Health Studies is a close working partner with BIHR, and is facilitating this studentship. The successful student will be based in Bradford at the Faculty of Health Studies but will work closely with BIHR and the Wolfson Centre for Applied Research.


Ideally the successful candidate has an interest and previous experience in dealing with cohort data such as questionnaire data and accelerometery and has qualitative research experience. Due to the nature of the topic, we are especially interested in applications from South Asian women for this studentship.

How to apply

Formal applications can be made through the University of Bradford web site. Applicants should register an account, and then choose 'Full-time PhD in Public Health' as the course.

Medicine (26) Psychology (31) Sociology (32) Sport & Exercise Science (33)

Funding Notes

This project includes funding which covers UK tuition fees and a stipend at UKRI rates (£18,622 per year) for living costs, for three years full-time, and fees for a fourth writing up year.


1. Carson, V., Lee, EY., Hewitt, L. et al. (2017) Systematic review of the relationships between physical activity and health indicators in the early years (0-4 years). BMC Public Health 17, 854. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4860-0
2. Bailey R, Hillman C, Arent S & Petitpas A (2013) Physical Activity: An Underestimated Investment in Human Capital? Journal of Physical Activity and Health; 10: 289–308.
3. Ginsburg K (2007) The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, 119, 182-191. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2006-2697
4. Stenne-Johannessen J et al. (2020) On behalf of the Determinants of Diet and Physical Activity knowledge hub (DEDIPAC); International Children’s Accelerometry Database (ICAD) Collaborators, IDEFICS Consortium and HELENA Consortium. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity volume 17, Article number: 38
5. Cooper, A.R., Goodman, A., Page, A.S. et al. Objectively measured physical activity and sedentary time in youth: the International children’s accelerometry database (ICAD). Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 12, 113 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-015-0274-5
6. Objectively-measured sedentary time and physical activity in a bi-ethnic sample of young children: variation by socio-demographic, temporal and perinatal factors. Collings PJ, Dogra SA, Costa S, Bingham DD, Barber SE. BMC Public Health. 2020 Jan 28;20(1):109. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-8132-z.
7. Bingham, D.D., Daly-Smith, A., Hall, J. et al. Covid-19 lockdown: Ethnic differences in children’s self-reported physical activity and the importance of leaving the home environment; a longitudinal and cross-sectional study from the Born in Bradford birth cohort study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 18, 117 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-021-01183-y
8. Nagy LC, Faisal M, Horne M, et al. Factors associated with accelerometer measured movement behaviours among White British and South Asian children aged 6–8 years during school terms and school holidays. BMJ Open 2019;9:e025071. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2018-025071
9. Unpublished data from BiB growing-up data set.

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