School physical education (PE) and parental involvement are critical to win the battle against the epidemic of obesity. However, little research has been conducted to investigate the perceptions of school PE from parents of overweight adolescents. Under a social-ecological theoretical framework, the purpose of the present study was to qualitatively describe how overweight adolescents' parents perceived school PE. As a part of a larger study relevant to overweight adolescents and their parents' coping mechanisms against obesity biases, the present study focused on the importance of physical education and the objectives of physical education.
Participants were 42 overweight adolescents' parents who engaged in a semi-structured interview in the southern United States urban City. Data analysis included constant comparative analysis and cross-case comparison. To ensure trustworthiness, a large number of parents were interviewed and engaged in the process of member checking of transcripts and a follow-up focus group to check the accuracy of the results.
Four higher order themes emerged from the data analysis: 1) Parents valued PE for various reasons, but most of them emphasized that school PE should be health-oriented by providing activity time and teaching students how to be healthy; 2) parents had a lot of frustrations with PE; 3) greater accountability is needed for PE teachers; and 4) PE teacher should design instructions and create learning environments to include overweight students. The reasons for the importance of PE were: (a) providing exercise time, (b) learning how to be healthy, (c) learning sports and exercise, (d) helping their children to loose weight, (e) learning social skills, (f) developing self-esteem; (g) developing team work ability; and (h) helping develop physical active lifestyles outside of school. Parents' frustrations with PE included: (a) limited PE time or no PE at all, (b) teachers do nothing in PE; (c) activities are not fun; (d) no activity choices; (e) focusing on competitive sports; (f) students dress out, but do not play; and (g) teachers do not push students as hard as before.
The findings of the present study suggest that there is a need for improved communication between PE teachers and parents about the physical educational components and a nationwide accountability system for PE teaching should be developed and implemented. Teachers also should be equipped with strategies to include overweight students.
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