Youth Obesity Versus Active Leisure, Recreation, and Sport Participation

By John H.

A major challenge towards youth participation in active leisure, recreation and sport is obesity. Being overweight or obese can lead to a variety of health problems, partially because it effects active leisure and physical activity levels among youth. Those who are overweight or obese report not feeling confident in their abilities, are embarrassed while doing physical activity and playing sports, and do not enjoy participating. On top of that, verbal teasing, physical bullying, and other forms of victimization by peers are more prevalent among children who are overweight or obese; thus leading to negative leisure, recreation, and sport experiences. These negative experiences result in decreased participation in sport and recreation activities for overweight and obese youth. As a result, obese or overweight youth can oftentimes have little to no influence from sport and recreation professionals and the programs designed to engage youth with active and healthy lifestyle education.

Potential social psychological consequences of childhood obesity that influence well-being include stigmatization, social rejection, low self-esteem, negative body image, and victimization by peers through verbal and physical bullying and social exclusion (Shannon, 2014). Children who are classified as overweight tend to watch more television, spend more time playing video games, and other forms of inactive leisure because they often feel incapable in their physical abilities, or feel like they don’t belong in the sport or recreation setting. Obesity in youth occurs as a result of an imbalance between energy intake and energy outflow, therefore it is critical for overweight or obese individuals to implement physical activity into their leisure time. But this is easier said than done, as personal experiences of successes and failures in leisure activities are among the factors that have an impact on youths’ generalized leisure experiences.

During lecture five of Youth Development through Recreation and Sport, the class discussed the importance of support networks with recreation and sport professionals who play significant roles in empowering youth. Youth highly benefit from: being involved in decisions regarding their active leisure, recreation, and sport activities, developing necessary social skills through allowing them to be involved in the community, and creating opportunities for youth engage in meaningful service for a good cause (Shannon-McCallum, 2017). So, how can we help ensure overweight and obese youth are met with all the resources necessary to meet their full potential for an active and healthy lifestyle? Increasing youth’s confidence levels as sport and recreation professionals is key towards their development of athletic abilities is a key component to ensuring participation for life in active leisure, recreation, and sport. It is important that we make sure every young person can participate in physical activities without being victimized and feeling like they don’t belong. Youth workers of all sorts including coaches, instructors, teachers, and program/event leaders must ensure positive youth development to ensure positive recreation and sport experiences to encourage an active lifestyle, thus combatting youth obesity and ensuring positive experiences and life-long healthy decision making.

Shannon, C. S. (2014). Exploring the leisure experiences of children who are overweight and obese: Parent and child perspectives. Leisure/Loisir, 38(2), 139-163.

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4 Responses to Youth Obesity Versus Active Leisure, Recreation, and Sport Participation

  1. Victoria Starratt says:

    Great post John! I agree with the points that you have made here. It is extremely difficult for overweight and obese youth to participate in sport and physically active recreation programs. Youth who are overweight are more likely to be bullied or teased in the recreation and leisure setting. This deters overweight youth from participating in sport and recreation programming. This also leaves overweight youth with negative views of sporting and recreation programs, leading to negative first experiences and ongoing negative experiences. I agree with your solution to create positive youth experiences and maintain positive youth development. Working with overweight youth to increase their self-esteem in the sport and recreation setting will hopefully increase positive experiences. Creating positive first experiences and positive ongoing experiences could increase participation rates.

    Victoria S.

  2. acamero5 says:

    I think you’ve made some excellent points John. Obesity has been a problem for quite a long time now with not only sport and recreational activities but just life in general, and it is increasing yearly. You mentioned that people affected by obesity may choose to play video games, or watch television as opposed to playing a sport because of being teased by others or because they feel incapable of their own physical capabilities when the only way for them to improve their physical capabilities would be to put down the remote/controller and practice them by partaking in sports/recreational activities. And not to mention that by partaking in sports/recreational activities as opposed to spending their time in front of a screen may also help them fight obesity and possibly lose some weight, kind of ironic isn’t it? I agree with what you said about coaches, instructors, etc. having to come forward to help these people because it has to be a group effort, and these people need to prove that they are accepting and want these obese youth to come forward and participate, because self-confidence is a major factor in whether or not anyone participates in sport/recreation and feeling accepted may be the difference maker in whether or not they come forward and actually decide to partake.
    Alex C.

  3. mackenziemarble says:

    Great post John!
    This is such an important topic to discuss when it comes to youth and their well-being. It is crucial for youth to participate in physical activity to remain healthy and to develop a number of physical and mental skills/assets. It is extremely unfortunate that when overweight youth do commit to an activity, they are quite often subjected to bullying and criticism. Coaches and recreation leaders must adopt a supportive approach towards children who may be struggling with their weight and be sure to avoid singling any one player out. Coaches should also emphasize the importance of inclusion and respect within their team, whether it is in regards to overweight children, youth of different ethnicities, or kids with disabilities. The only way for kids suffering from obesity to become healthy is to engage in physical activity and adopt a healthier lifestyle; therefore, society should be focused on motivating kids to join sports and providing a safe and supportive environment in which they can feel comfortable. If youth feel comfortable in an active environment sports become enjoyable and youth are more likely to continue to participate and be active. It is also critical to teach kids that there are all kinds of different body types and the importance should not be placed on what your body looks like but how healthy and active you are as youth.

  4. jmunn1 says:

    Great work, John!
    Many youth are becoming increasingly more overweight and inactive, especiialy in New Brunswick, despite there being more opportunities than ever to participate. I like that you addressed some of the social and psychological consequences that overweight youth have to face, particularly low-self esteem and negative body image. I know personally just how much being overweight can not only affect how youths current perceptions but even affect them further in life.
    In my experience, being rather short and weighing over 250 pounds in middle school had a huge effect on my confidence and willingness to engage in physical activity. I can testisy that once I finally began to try different sports experience more positive physical activity experiences and relationships with coaches and teammates, I began to have a much more positive outlook on physical activity. However, the impacts of facing these challenges as an overweight youth during such a critical time to youth development often affect kids into their adult lives. For example, in recent years I have been in arguably the best shape of my life yet I still feel affected by the negative body image I developed during middle school.
    Thankfully I was able to overcome the fear of stigmatization and have those experiences that promoted me to continue being physically active. Many youth, however, still face that fear and are not likely to engage in physical activity because of it. I think that it is essential for youth workers to understand just how much being overweight alone can affect youth development, and take all possible measures to ensure there is no sort of victimization or stigmatization any overweight person. By closely monitoring youth behaviors towards overweight people youth workers may be able to help minimize these social consequences beyond their immediate reach and encourage a safe environment for all youth to participate.

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