Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Assessment of physical activity levels in South Asians in the UK: findings from the Health Survey for England
  1. Emily D Williams,
  2. Emmanuel Stamatakis,
  3. Tarani Chandola,
  4. Mark Hamer
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Emily D Williams, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1–19 Torrington Place, London WC1E 6BT, UK; emily.williams{at}


Background South Asians in the UK experience high rates of coronary heart disease compared with other ethnic groups. Behavioural risk factors such as physical inactivity have been explored as possible explanations for this trend. However, there have been few comprehensive accounts describing physical activity levels of this ethnic group.

Methods Data from the Health Survey for England (1999–2004) on 5421 South Asians and 8974 white participants aged 18–55 years were used to compare physical activity levels. Analyses of covariance tested the association between ethnicity and self-reported total physical activity metabolic equivalents of task (MET) scores, adjusting for age, sex, self-reported health, adiposity and socioeconomic status.

Results Total MET-min/week were consistently lower in UK South Asians than in white participants (973 vs 1465 MET-min, p<0.001). This ethnic group difference was consistent across sexes, age groups and subgroups and was independent of covariates. South Asians born in the UK reported higher levels of physical activity than those born elsewhere (p<0.001). Variables such as urbanisation and psychological distress were associated with physical activity; however, despite their inclusion in the models, ethnic group differences remained, indicating that physical inactivity in South Asians was not attributable to area or individual sociodemographic factors.

Conclusions Physical activity levels are very low in UK South Asians; this is consistent across all examined population subsets. Physical inactivity is likely to contribute to their high risk of coronary heart disease. Increasing physical activity in all UK South Asians should be a public health priority for health professionals.

  • Physical activity
  • ethnic minorities
  • CHD risk factors
  • population health
  • population surveys
  • public health epidemiology

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Funding This work was funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative (Grant no. G0701859). The funding partners relevant to this award are: the British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK; Department of Health; Diabetes UK; Economic and Social Research Council; Medical Research Council; Research and Development Office for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services; Chief Scientist Office; Scottish Executive Health Department; The Stroke Association; Welsh Assembly government and World Cancer Research Fund. The Health Survey for England was commissioned by the Department of Health and was carried out by the Joint Health Survey Unit of National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the North Thames Multi-Centre Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.