Wray, Sharon and Latham, Nicki (2003) Connecting health and ethnic identity: The impact of ethnic and cultural diversity on women’s health during mid life. In: 6th Conference of the European Sociological Association ‘Ageing Societies, New Sociology’, 23rd - 26th September, Murcia, Spain. (Unpublished)

There is substantial evidence to suggest that the symbolic significance of the female body as a keeper of religious ethnic and cultural territory has an important effect on women's health (Pettman 1996, Yuval-Davis 1997). Indeed, encounters with diet and exercise regimes often directly impact on women's health and well - being. Diet is closely linked to the construction and maintenance of ethnic, cultural and gender identities. It signifies values, territories and rituals and enables individuals to distinguish themselves from others (Hargreaves 2000). Additionally, control over diet, appetite and physical activity may be influenced by, or used to convey, religious and spiritual beliefs, beauty norms and notions of moral responsibility for health. This paper draws on two qualitative research studies. The first examines the health experiences of British Pakistani African Caribbean and white women at mid life. The second explores the meaning of exercise and health for women at mid life with Type 2 diabetes. Both reflect on the meanings that these women give to diet and exercise and the extent to which these are influenced by ethnic background and the politics of identity and belonging. The findings from this research, suggest ethnic and cultural background have a significant impact on perceptions of medical discourse: it's reliability and accuracy. The implications of this for health policy and practice are discussed in the final section of the paper.

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