Motivational determinants of physical activity in disadvantaged populations with (pre)diabetes: a cross-cultural comparison

Background Understanding motivational determinants of physical activity (PA) is essential to guide the implementation of PA at individual and population level. Knowledge about the cross-cultural generalizability of these determinants is lacking and they have mostly been studied as separate factors. This study compares a motivational process model across samples from diverse populations with, or at risk of diabetes. Methods Measurement invariance of barrier identified regulation, barrier self-efficacy and social support was assessed in a rural Ugandan sample (n = 712) and disadvantaged samples with high proportions of immigrants in urban South Africa (n = 566) and Sweden (n = 147). These motivational determinants were then compared through multigroup structural equation modeling. Results The studied motivational constructs showed scalar invariance. Latent mean levels of perceived social support and barrier self-efficacy were lower in South Africa and Sweden. Structural models (for different PA outcomes) were not consistent across settings except for the association between perceived social support and identified regulation. Identified regulation was only associated with vigorous PA in Uganda and with moderate PA in South Africa. The association between social support and PA outcomes ranged from weak to not significant and the association between self-efficacy and PA was not significant. Self-reported PA was highest in Uganda and lowest in Sweden. Self-reported vigorous PA was significantly related to lower hemoglobin A1c levels, while moderate PA was not. Conclusions Findings suggest that: 1) it is feasible to compare a motivational process model across diverse settings; 2) there is lower perceived social support and self-efficacy in the urban, migrant samples; 3) identified regulation is a more promising determinant of PA than self-efficacy or social support in these populations; 4) associations between motivational determinants and PA depend on the perceived type and/or intensity of PA; 5) perceived relatedness functions as a basic psychological need across diverse settings; and 6) people’s perception of the PA they perform depends on their perceived level of intensity of PA which would have major implications for health promotion.