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BACKGROUND: South Asians are some of the least active people in the UK, but we know very little about how physical activity varies within and between different UK South Asian groups. There is much socio-economic and cultural heterogeneity among UK Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, and the same approaches to increasing physical activity may not be appropriate for all people of these ethnic groups. We report on the variation in physical activity behaviour prevalence in quantitative studies and the variations in attitudes, motivations and barriers to physical activity among South Asians in qualitative papers. METHODS: We performed systematic searches in MEDLINE, Embase and Psychinfo for papers written in English and published between 1990 and 2014. We also attempted to search literature not published in peer-review journals (the 'grey' literature). We reported data for the quantitative observational studies and synthesised themes from the qualitative literature according to age-group. We assessed the quality of studies using a National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence tool. RESULTS: We included 29 quantitative papers and 17 qualitative papers. Thirteen papers reported on physical activity prevalence in South Asian children, with the majority comparing them to White British children. Four papers reported on adult second-generation South Asians and the rest reported on South Asian adults in general. Second-generation South Asians were more active than the first-generation but were still less active than the White British. There were no high quality qualitative studies on second-generation South Asian adults, but there were some studies on South Asian children. The adult studies indicated that the second-generation might have a more favourable attitude towards physical activity than the first-generation. CONCLUSIONS: There is clear variation in physical activity levels among UK South Asians. Second-generation South Asians appear to be more physically active than the first-generation, but still less active than the White British. More qualitative research is needed to understand why, but there are indications that second-generation South Asians have a more positive attitude towards physical activity than the first-generation. Different strategies to increase physical activity may be needed for different generations of UK South Asians.

Original publication




Journal article


Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act

Publication Date





Asia, Western, Attitude, Culture, Emigrants and Immigrants, Emigration and Immigration, Ethnic Groups, Exercise, Family Characteristics, Female, Health Behavior, Humans, Male, Motivation, United Kingdom