Restrictive cultural, religious expectations and gender norms in predominantly patriarchal South Asian societies are a major influence on physical activity in South Asian women. With the help of a Social Ecological Model, Bushra is exploring the influence of social norms, culture, and religion on physical activity behavior of Muslim South Asian women.
South Asians are at a higher risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases at a younger age and lower body mass index (BMI), due mainly to genetic predisposition, unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Physical inactivity is recognized as an independent risk factor for developing abdominal adiposity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Measurement method has an important impact on the assessed levels of Physical Activity(PA). Self-report methods tend to over or under estimate actual levels of PA. An accurate assessment of PA levels in high risk populations and an understanding of socio-cultural and environmental influences that may influence PA behavior are important for designing effective interventions. My research aims to evaluate PA and its correlates including socio-cultural, religious and environmental factors as guided by the Social Ecological Model (SEM) in South Asians’ in Metro Vancouver.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
I view being a public scholar as an honor as well as a responsibility. It’s an honor because it’s a scholarly award that recognizes the potential of my proposed work and a responsibility because it’s a trust in my abilities to accomplish the objectives of my project. Furthermore, being a public scholar will help me develop skills related to involvement of community members and opinion leaders, in research that is designed primarily for their benefit. Lastly, being a public scholar enables me to connect and interact with my peer scholars and learn from their unique and common experiences.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
Becoming a PSI scholar gave me an opportunity to address a gap in our ongoing research and field of interest, which I could not have done otherwise. Being a South Asian Muslim woman myself, I feel strongly about giving a voice to women like myself, who are often overlooked by researchers due to being considered a hard to engage group. Moreover, I am excited and am looking forward to sharing my ideas and thoughts with like-minded scholars and learn from them.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
My PhD training provided me with the advanced methodological and data analysis skills I needed for conducting original research. The PSI program provides me with the opportunity to translate those skills into practice and to further invest in building networks with researchers involved in similar work in organizations outside of UBC. My career goals are still forming but my interest in affiliating myself with non-for-profit organizations in resource poor settings.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
Our current research, in collaboration with VCH and Fraser Health focuses heavily on cardiometabolic syndrome in high-risk South Asian population. ‘South Asian’ is an umbrella term used widely for people originating from 7 different countries in South Asia. While there may be several homogeneous social and cultural factors that unite these people, there is still considerable heterogeneity based on religion and country of origin. Overall Muslim South Asian women have lower physical activity compared to other sub-groups and have been inadequately represented in research involving life style behaviors. I will work with board of Masjid al-Salaam and Education Centre to engage women in a dialogue around issues related to over-weight and physical activity. Masjid al-Salaam is engaged in many education and wellness activities and will be an ideal partner for this project and activities thereafter.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
I have been involved in research since the completion of my master’s degree at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. After working as a member of a team involved in various research projects for a few years, I realized I wanted to further develop my methodological and analytical skills so that I would be able to pursue my own ideas and conduct independent research.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
UBC’s graduate programs in health sciences offer unique opportunities for advancement of hard skills while working with highly skilled and motivated research teams involved in cutting edge research. Being a South Asian myself, I was impressed with the work of a group of dedicated researchers in the Department of Endocrinology, focused on cardiometabolic syndrome among high-risk South Asian ethnic group; given my interest and my research background, UBC was thus a natural choice.
My work will provide a voice to South Asian Muslim women—a sub-group that has seldom been approached for participation in research studies. My research will provide an avenue to these women to share their lives and gendered experiences and help researchers understand these cultural nuances impacting their daily lives and health.