Factors Related to Engaging in Physical Activity: A Mixed Methods Study of Female University Students


Objective: As a needs assessment for intervention, quantitative and qualitative methods were used to examine attitude, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, intention, knowledge, and weight control status related to physical activity in female university students within the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB). Methods: A two-phase mixed method design was used. In Phase I, 362 students participated in an online survey, and in Phase II, 33 students participated in five focus group discussions. Ages of participants ranged from 18 to 45 years old, with 18 - 25 year olds making up over 74% of the sample. Results: Attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control, along with weight control status of trying to lose weight, were found to be significant predictors of intention to follow physical activity recommendations, which in turn were the strongest predictor of physical activity. Knowledge was not found to be significant. Group discussions revealed barriers to meeting physical activity recommendations, which included lack of companionship and social support, lack of motivation, time and cost restrictions, and lack of privacy in the gym. Social norms exerted both positive and negative influences. Conclusion: The mixed method approach provided a deeper insight into the influential factors pertaining to physical activity among female students, and results could be used in further research to develop effective interventions.

Share and Cite:

H. Saaty, A. , B. Reed, D. , Zhang, W. and Boylan, M. (2015) Factors Related to Engaging in Physical Activity: A Mixed Methods Study of Female University Students. Open Journal of Preventive Medicine, 5, 416-425. doi: 10.4236/ojpm.2015.510046.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013) Overweight and Obesity.
[2] American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment (2014) Reference Group Executive Summary Spring 2014.
[3] World Health Organization (2010) Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Geneva.
[4] Sylvia-Bobiak, S. and Caldwell, L.I. (2006) Factors Related to Physically active Leisure among College Students. Leisure Sciences, 28, 73-89.
[5] Cluskey, M. and Grobe, D. (2009) College Weight Gain and Behavior Transitions: Male and Female Differences. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109, 325-329.
[6] Burke, V., Beilin, L.I., Dunbar, D. and Kevan, M. (2004) Changes in Health-Related Behaviours and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Young Adults: Association with Living with a Partner. Preventive Medicine, 39, 722-730.
[7] Harring, H.A., Montgomery, K. and Hardin, J. (2010) Perceptions of Body Weight, Weight Management Strategies, and Depressive Symptoms among US College Students. Journal of American College Health, 59, 43-50.
[8] Kilpatrick, M., Hebert, E. and Bartholomew, J. (2005) College Students’ Motivation for Physical Activity: Differentiating Men’s and Women’s Motives for Sport Participation and Exercise. Journal of American College Health, 54, 87-94.
[9] Park, S., Sappenfield, W., Bish, C., Salihu, H., Goodman, D. and Bensyl, D. (2011) Assessment of the Institute of Medicine Recommendations for Weight Gain during Pregnancy: Florida, 2004-2007. Maternal & Child Health Journal, 15, 289-301.
[10] Ajzen, I. (1991) The Theory of Planned Behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.
[11] Everson, E.S., Daley, A.J. and Ussher, M. (2007) Brief Report: the Theory of Planned Behaviour Applied to Physical Activity in Young People Who Smoke. Journal of Adolescence, 30, 347-351.
[12] Rhodes, R.E. and Courneya, K.S. (2003) Investigating Multiple Components of Attitude, Subjective Norm, and Perceived Control: An Examination of the Theory of Planned Behaviour in the Exercise Domain. British Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 129.
[13] Payne, N., Jones, F. and Harris, P.R. (2004) The Role of Perceived Need within the Theory of Planned Behaviour: A Comparison of Exercise And Healthy Eating. British Journal of Health Psychology, 9, 489-504.
[14] Poobalan, A.S., Aucott, L.S., Clarke, A. and Smith, W.C. (2012) Physical Activity Attitudes, Intentions and Behaviour among 18 to 25 Year Olds: A Mixed Method Study. BMC Public Health, 12, 640.
[15] Creswell, J.W. (2009) Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. 3rd Edition, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.
[16] George, D. and Mallery, P. (2003) SPSS for Windows Step by Step: A Simple Guide and Reference. 11.0 Update. 4th Edition, Allyn & Bacon, Boston.
[17] Wilson, A., Magarey, A. and Mastersson, N. (2008) Reliability and Relative Validity of a Child Nutrition Questionnaire to Simultaneously Assess Dietary Patterns Associated with Positive Energy Balance and Food Behaviours, Attitudes, Knowledge and Environments Associated with Healthy Eating. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 5, 55.
[18] Pallant, J. (2004). SPSS Survival Manual. Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.
[19] ATLAS.ti. Version 7.0 [Computer software] Berlin, Scientific Software Development.
[20] Moore, L.V., Fulton, J., Kruger, J. and McDivitt, J. (2010) Knowledge of Physical Activity Guidelines among Adults in the United States, HealthStyles 2003-2005. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 7, 141-149.
[21] Pérez-Cueto, F.A., Pieniak, Z.Z. and Verbeke, W.W. (2011) Attitudinal Determinants of Fish Consumption in Spain and Poland. Nutrición Hospitalaria Journal, 26, 1412-1419.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.