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Abstract

‘The perfect size’: perceptions of and influences on body image and body size in young Somali women living in Liverpool –a qualitative study.

Obesity has been identified as a problem in the Somali community in Liverpool, and is affected by body image and environment. This research used qualitative methods to explore perceptions of and influences on body image and body size among young Somali women living in Liverpool. Initial discussions with Somali health workers informed a series of focus groups, which were held in localcommunity centres. A total of 13 young Somali women were recruited for the focus groups using a snowballing technique. Themes that emerged from these groups formed the basis for further focus groups with the original participants to check the validity of the analysis and to generate possible solutions for the specific issues uncovered. The study found that young women negotiated UKand Somali cultures, endeavouring to extract positive aspects of Somali culture relating to body size and diet. However, they felt constrained by older Somalis' cultural attitude that favours a larger body size, and by Somali men's more traditional attitude towards diet. Young Somali women wished to be healthy, but also faced environmental barriers in engaging with both exercise and healthy eating, particularlyin a deprived inner-city area. Both cultural pressures and environmental barriers are likely to increase as women grow older and have children.This research highlights the need to address cultural norms in anobesity-targeted health promotion strategy.The findings suggest that public health practitioners should harness the skills and enthusiasm of young women in addressing obesity in the Somali community. The wider public health community should facilitate an environment that enableswomen and their children to lead healthy lifestyles. Further research is needed to examine the influence ofSomali men on dietary practices.


Author(s): Katy Gardner, Samsam Salah, Conan Leavey, Lorna Porcellato

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