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Moving the body: physical activity among Barbadians

Jennifer Sweeney Tookes (Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, USA)

International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care

ISSN: 1747-9894

Article publication date: 17 September 2019

Issue publication date: 18 October 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the beliefs, self-perceptions, and self-reported behaviors around physical activity among Barbadian women on the Caribbean island of Barbados, and among Barbadian migrant women in Atlanta, Georgia. It investigates their perceptions and practices of physical activity and its relationship to health, and how these ideas and practices differ between the two sites.


Situated within long-term ethnographic research conducted in both study sites, this paper focuses on qualitative interview data and quantitative physical activity logs from 31 Barbadian women.


Most study subjects expressed belief that physical activity is valuable to their health. Women in Barbados described their own lives as active, and documented this activity in their physical activity logs. However, women in Atlanta described patterns of limited activity that were evidenced in their logs. Qualitative interviews determined that the overarching reasons for this inactivity are the structural confines of wage labor and the built environment.

Social implications

These findings indicate that rather than health promotions that emphasize individual responsibility, physical activity levels in US migrant populations may more likely be altered by addressing the structural limitations of the American work day or the ubiquitous urban commute time.


This paper is unique in its contribution of dual-sited qualitative research that explores the motivations and limitations of physical activity in a migrant population. In addition, it enhances the existing literature by examining a native-English-speaking, middle-class population in migration.



The Barbadian portion of this research was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation (Grant No. 7990). The Atlanta component of the project was made possible by a graduate fellowship through Emory’s Center for Science Education and the National Science Foundation (Grant No. 0536941). The author appreciates the input of two anonymous reviewers, and is particularly grateful for comments and critiques offered by Barbara Hendry and Heidi Altman of Georgia Southern University. Most sincere gratitude goes to the women of Barbados and Atlanta who gave generously of their time and energy to make this project possible.


Tookes, J.S. (2019), "Moving the body: physical activity among Barbadians", International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 332-344.



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