Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common endocrine conditions, affecting up to 18% of women in Australia. As PCOS is exacerbated by obesity, lifestyle management is recommended as first-line treatment. This study investigated women’s perceptions of diet and physical activity in relation to PCOS, to inform development of PCOS lifestyle programs and to better facilitate individualised treatment plans.
Participants were women aged 18-40 years with a previous medical diagnosis of PCOS, living in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, were eligible for inclusion in the study. A qualitative framework was adopted, with two focus groups (n=8) and 22 individual interviews conducted with participants in 2015.
The mean age of participants was 28.1 (± 5.26) and the mean BMI was 26.2 (± 6.37). Common motivators for maintaining a recommended diet included knowledge of consequences (increased risk of diabetes, weight gain), increase in energy and a perceived positive impact on emotional wellbeing. Barriers identified for maintaining a recommended diet included a busy lifestyle, lack of and confusing information from health professionals and a negative impact from various social networks. Motivators for physical activity and exercise included knowledge of consequences from lack of exercise, social opportunities and a positive impact on emotional wellbeing. Barriers to uptake and long-term commitment for exercise included time restraints, perceived low or no impact on PCOS symptoms and lack of motivation.
PCOS was perceived as both a motivator and a barrier for engagement in optimal lifestyle management. This research highlights the importance of providing evidence-based, appropriate information about lifestyle management to support women to address barriers and sustain motivators related to PCOS.