The Power of Believing: Salient Belief Predictors of Exercise Behavior in Normal Weight, Overweight, and Obese Pregnant Women

in Journal of Physical Activity and Health
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Nearly 50% of U.S. women enter pregnancy as overweight or obese (OW/OB). There is a critical need to understand how to motivate OW/OB pregnant women for exercise behavior to improve their health and reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes.


To examine salient Theory of Planned Behavior belief predictors of normal weight (NW) and OW/OB pregnant women’s exercise behavior (EXB) across pregnancy.


Pregnant women (N = 357) self-reported their exercise beliefs and behavior during each pregnancy trimester. Pearson correlations were used to examine exercise beliefs-behavior associations. Stepwise regressions were used to identify trimester (TRI) 1 and TRI 2 belief predictors of TRI 2 and TRI 3 EXB, respectively, for each weight status group. Belief endorsement was examined to identify critical beliefs.


TRI 1 EXB beliefs explained 58% of the total variance (22% NW, 36% OW/OB) in TRI 2 EXB. TRI 2 EXB beliefs explained 32% of the total variance (17% NW, 15% OW/OB) in TRI 3 EXB. Individual beliefs varied by weight status and trimester. Control beliefs emerged with the lowest endorsement; making them most critical to target for exercise interventions.


Prenatal exercise interventions should be weight status specific and target salient beliefs/barriers unique to the pregnancy trimesters.

Downs ( is with the Dept of Exercise Psychology Laboratory, Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. Devlin is with the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, Boston’s Children’s Hospital, Boston, MA. Rhodes is with the Behavioural Medicine Laboratory, School of Exercise Science, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

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