An experimental investigation of physical education teachers’ and coaches’ reactions to weight-based victimization in youth

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Overweight youth are frequent targets of weight-based victimization during Physical Education (PE) and sports. In addition, previous research indicates that teachers’ perceptions and expectations may influence their likelihood of intervening during victimization, and physical educators may endorse biased perceptions and expectations of overweight youth. Despite this evidence, no research has examined how physical educators respond to weight-based victimization of their students. Thus, the current study examined PE teachers’ and coaches’ responses to different types of victimization involving average weight and overweight students.


This study utilized an experimental design that assessed participants’ reactions to situations of weight-related victimization using hypothetical scenarios accompanied by photographs of youth.


PE teachers and sport coaches (N = 162) were randomly presented with a scenario and follow-up questions about an average weight or an overweight student. Each participant completed two conditions: one with a male target, and one with a female target.


Participants were more likely to take action when overweight female students were victims of bullying, specifically in situations of verbal and relational victimization. Male participants were less likely to respond to victimization than female participants.


Findings suggest the importance of increasing awareness about weight-based victimization and its consequences, especially among male physical educators. Implications for the psychological, social, and physical development of overweight youth are discussed.

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