RC Grant Findings: Qualitative Exploration of Overweight/Obese Adolescents' Coping Mechanisms

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Exhibit Hall RC Poster Sessions (Tampa Convention Center)
Weidong Li, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH and Paul Rukavina, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY

Overweight or obese adolescents are stigmatized as lazy, unattractive, or self-indulgent by peers due to their body sizes and shapes. Obesity bias can be manifested in a variety of indirect and direct ways in physical education/activity settings, such as teasing, weight criticism during physical activity, withdrawing of friendships. Experiencing negative treatment or comments during physical activity/education settings can be psychologically and emotionally damaging, which can ultimately serve as barrier to adopting a healthy lifestyle (Faith et al, 2002). The effect of weight-related teasing can be mediated by coping mechanisms; however, little is known about how overweight or obese adolescents in physical activity/education settings cope with weight-related teasing or resultant emotions. The purpose of the study was to conduct an in-depth qualitative exploration of overweight or obese adolescents coping mechanisms against obesity bias.


Fifty Southern adolescents who had body mass indexes large than the 85th per age were interviewed using semi-structured questions. The interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed. Constant comparison analysis and cross-case comparison were used to establish categories and themes. Trustworthiness was established by peer debriefing and collecting data from a large number of participants, which were involved in checking the accuracy of the transcripts and involving several participants in an interpretative member check via focus group.


Coping strategies used by overweight adolescents included trying to talk to the teaser and telling them how they felt, crying, ignoring, religion, confrontations, talking to someone for emotional support, etc. Themes that emerged were a) Some coping strategies were more effective for each individual, b) Multiple coping mechanisms, not just one, are used to buffer teasing or make oneself feel better; c) Used trial and error to find effective coping strategies, d) Coping strategies were only used if the teasing bothered the student, e) choice of coping strategy depends on the situation.


In the present study, overweight and obese adolescents used many ways to deal with negative interactions in a multitude of different situations that occur in physical education. The results suggest the need to create inclusive physical education environments where teachers present developmentally appropriate tasks, elicit personal and social responsibility, foster collaboration amongst learners and teach adolescents multiple strategies to cope with obesity bias.