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Social and cultural construction of obesity among Pakistani Muslim women in North West England

  • Alison F Ludwig (a1), Peter Cox (a2) and Basma Ellahi (a1)



The present qualitative study explored health perceptions, diet and the social construction of obesity and how this relates to the initiation and maintenance of a healthier diet in UK Pakistani women.


Pakistani women in Greater Manchester participated in focus group and one-to-one discussions. Semi-structured interviews employing fictional vignettes and body shape images were used to explore the participants’ beliefs and practices regarding diet, overweight/obesity and the risk of type 2 diabetes. Transcripts were analysed using phenomenological and sociological approaches.


Interviews took place either in local community and Pakistani resource centres or in private homes.


First- and second-generation women who were both active in the community and housebound. The women spoke English and/or Urdu.


The fifty-five participants lacked the motivation to address weight gain and were unsure how to do so. There was a limited awareness of the link between weight gain and type 2 diabetes. Other barriers included the influence of Islam, culture and familial expectations on home cooking, perceptions that weight gain is inevitable (owing to ageing, childbirth or divine predestination) and the prioritisation of family concerns over individual lifestyle changes. As the findings of the present research did not correspond to existing educational and behaviour change models, a new Health Action Transition conceptual model is proposed.


Health education programmes that aim to address obesity and its associated risks in the South Asian community must take into account the complex beliefs and practices and the multiple dimensions of religion, ethnic and social identity within this population. The present study provides further insight into these factors and proposes a novel model for use in designing and implementing education interventions for British Pakistani women.

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