Academic journal article Physical Educator

Weight Bias in Schools and How Physical Educators Can Assist in Its Demise

Academic journal article Physical Educator

Weight Bias in Schools and How Physical Educators Can Assist in Its Demise

Article excerpt

During the past three decades, the prevalence of childhood obesity has doubled for adolescents and tripled for children (Faigenbaum, 2007). Accompanying this increase is the escalating prevalence of weight bias. By definition, weight bias is the tendency to judge an individual who is overweight or obese negatively based on assumed and/or false character traits, such as being physically unattractive, incompetent, lazy, or lacking self-discipline (Rukavina & Li, 2008). In 1996, 7% of the adult population within the United States reported weight discrimination. By 2006, that percentage had risen to 12%, demonstrating a 66% increase (Andreyeva, Puhl, & Brownell, 2008). This bias has also been reported in preschool children 3 to 5 years of age, who associated peers who are overweight with characteristics such as being mean, stupid, ugly, and having few friends (Obesity Action Coalition, 2012). Laziness, unhappiness, messiness, shiftlessness, brainlessness, and simply uneducated are common weight bias stereotypes (Schmalz, 2010). These negative labels are found in all facets of life including schools, job sites, and even doctors' offices (O'Brien, Hunter, & Banks, 2007). Because of these stereotypes, the negative labels follow individuals who are obese or overweight and are difficult to overcome as they move from childhood through adulthood.

The research literature seems to be consistent in dealing with the most common weight biases, namely, implicit and explicit. Rukavina and Li (2008) explained that individuals who knowingly exhibit their weight bias against people who are overweight (i.e., teasing or namecalling) have explicit bias. Implicit bias, which can be triggered by certain events or actions, occurs when one unconsciously exhibits bias by assuming an individual or a group of individuals possesses certain characteristics such as laziness or is unmotivated (Rukavina & Li, 2008).

Medical consequences connected with individuals who are overweight are the focus of the health community, and too often the mental and social issues are overlooked. These issues can have serious effects on the personal and social well-being of individuals who are overweight individuals and may lead to negative health consequences. Weight bias is still considered a socially acceptable form of prejudice today and is rarely challenged (Obesity Action Coalition, 2012).

The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of weight bias in physical education (PE) programs and discuss interventions that may help to eliminate negative consequences. More specifically, we wanted to address two basic practitioner questions:

1. How does weight bias affect students within our schools?

2. When weight bias does occur, what can your school's physical education teacher do to help abolish it?

How Does Weight Bias Affect Students Within Our Schools?

Educators' attitudes toward individuals who are overweight are significant and may influence whether the experiences individuals who are overweight encounter will be positive or negative. Physical educators need to be aware of weight bias and its stigma. This stigma will certainly create negativity in the classroom. Recognizing such attitudes, which may be exhibited by peers, teachers, and the individuals themselves, can assist in developing appropriate lessons and enhancing student motivation. Instructors in PE are not immune to weight bias, and this could subconsciously affect their teaching. The actions revealed in a PE class can have lifelong damaging consequences for students who are overweight. PE classes additionally provide the opportunity for healthy enhancement and improvement of self-esteem. Teachers need to be conscious of the innuendoes of their instruction practices as well as the dynamics of the class. Sadly, youth who are overweight are receiving this message from countless sources, including their PE classes. However, PE specialists within the school can play an enormous part in educating society of the negative stigma placed on these individuals. …

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