“It is like medicine”: Using sports to promote adult women’s health in rural Kenya

Francis Barchi, Millan A. Abinader, Samantha C. Winter, Lena M. Obara, Daniel Mbogo, Bendettah M. Thomas, Brittany Ammerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite the well-documented health benefits of recreational sports, few opportunities exist in lower-and middle-income countries for adult women to participate in recreational physical activities. An explanatory sequential mixed methods approach was used to explore associations between an innovative soccer program for adult women and self-reported health status. Crosssectional survey data were collected in 2018–2019 from 702 women in the Nikumbuke Project, a health and literacy program in southeastern rural Kenya, followed by focus group discussions with 225 women who also participated in the Project’s soccer program. Quantitative findings suggest that women who participated in soccer had 67% greater odds of reporting good or excellent health than their non-soccer playing peers. Thematic analysis of qualitative data indicated that women credited soccer with less pain, fatigue, and stress, as well as weight loss and reduced dependence on medicine for hypertension, pain, and sleep problems. Women equated health benefits with greater ease and efficiency in completing chores, reduced worries, youthful energy, male-like strength, and pleased husbands. Soccer programs for adult women may be particularly effective interventions in settings where access to health care is limited and where lack of opportunity to engage in physical aerobic activity increases women’s risks for poor health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2347
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalInternational journal of environmental research and public health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Africa
  • Health promotion
  • Mixed-methods
  • Non-communicable disease
  • Obesity
  • Physical activity
  • Sports
  • Women’s health


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