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Child Care Health Dev. 2015 Nov;41(6):911-9. doi: 10.1111/cch.12218. Epub 2014 Nov 17.

Malawian parents' perceptions of physical activity and child development: a qualitative study.

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Department for International Health, University of Tampere School of Medicine, Tampere, Finland.
Department of Paediatrics, Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland.
iLiNS Project, University of Malawi College of Medicine, Mangochi, Malawi.
Department of Community Health, Blantyre, University of Malawi College of Medicine, Blantyre 3, Malawi.



In scientific studies, physical activity is measured by the amount of bodily movement, but lay perceptions of physical activity might be different. Parental influence is important for the development of children's physical activity behaviour, and parental perceptions of facilitators of physical activity are context specific. We aimed to investigate how parents of young Malawian children conceptualize physical activity in childhood, situate it in child development and understand its facilitators.


We used convenience sampling to identify parents of young children from different socio-economic backgrounds and age groups in semi-rural area of Malawi. We conducted in-depth interviews with 16 parents, a focus group discussion with six parents and key informant interviews with two nurses in Malawi. Six of the participants were fathers. We analysed the data with conventional qualitative content analysis by inductive approach.


The parents emphasized practical skills, education and proper behaviour as goals for their children. They viewed activity as encompassing both mental and physical qualities and they perceived it as a positive attribute of children. The parents discussed skills acquisition, social competence, health and bodily movement as signs for being active. As facilitators of physical activity the parents mentioned balanced diet, good health and stimulation. The main concerns of the parents in regard to facilitators of physical activity and good child development were the availability of food and the child being healthy.


Malawian parents' concept of children's physical activity is more comprehensive than scientific definition and includes aspects of both physical and mental activity.


development; physical activity; preschool children; qualitative study; sub-Saharan Africa

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