Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



African American (AA) women experience poor health outcomes that can be addressed by increasing PA engagement. Understanding how PA barriers and facilitators occur at multiple levels of influence may help tailor PA interventions for AA women. Although prior work has established barriers to PA that are unique to African American women, few studies identify the sociocultural norms associated with these impediments. Little is known about the cultural implications of barriers such as haircare maintenance, and public policy.

The primary aim of this dissertation was to capture AA women’s voice about PA barriers and facilitators using the social ecological model framework. Chapter 3 examined micro levels of influence focusing on AA women’s perceptions of hair, cultural identity, and PA participation. Using a qualitative approach, focus groups were conducted with AA women (N = 33) between the ages of 18 and 60 years old with a wide range of PA participation. Qualitative data indicated that AA women perceived their hair as an indispensable part of their identity that was considered prior to PA. Afrocentric hairstyles were preferred and celebrated in the AA community. Negative reactions to their preferred hairstyles caused participants to choose exercise inhibiting hairstyles that were more acceptable to peers. Widespread acceptance of Afrocentric hairstyles offered the best solution for maintaining cultural identity and an active lifestyle.

The purpose of Chapter 4 was to explore AA women’s beliefs about how public policy impacts their PA engagement. A total of 8 focus groups were conducted virtually with women from 18 different states across the United States (N = 33). Results indicated that public policy was not perceived as having a positive impact on PA. Certain policies that governed the condition and availability of built environments were seen as intentionally ineffective. Grassroots groups focused on improving their communities were identified as the best macro level facilitator of PA.

Data from both studies also reveal the importance of incorporating cultural considerations into PA interventions at multiple levels of influence. To improve future interventions, it is crucial to integrate cultural elements that address barriers at both individual and societal levels



Committee Chair

Garn, Alex

Available for download on Friday, March 20, 2026