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Keywords:

  • child and adolescent health;
  • physical fitness and sport;
  • weight stigma;
  • physical education;
  • teacher;
  • weight bias

BACKGROUND: At school, physical education (PE) teachers and coaches may be key supports for physical activity. Unfortunately, PE teachers may endorse negative stereotypes and attitudes toward overweight youth. These biases may influence the amount of instruction physical educators provide to students and their participation in PE or other physical activity.

METHODS: This study assessed physical educators' (N = 162) ability and performance expectations, attributions, and attitudes toward overweight and non-overweight students.

RESULTS: Physical educators endorsed inferior ability expectations for overweight students compared to non-overweight students. Poorer performance expectations were limited to overweight female targets, but when controlling for participant characteristics, this effect became marginally significant for overweight male targets. There was a trend such that participants endorsed more external attributions for the abilities and performance of overweight female students, yet this effect was reduced to marginal significance when controlling for participant characteristics. Participants endorsed more negative attitudes for both overweight males and females compared to non-overweight youth.

CONCLUSIONS: Findings indicate that physical educators' expectations, attributions, and attitudes regarding students may be negatively influenced by youth body weight, and differ by student gender. The potential effect of physical educators' weight bias on adolescent participation in physical activity and its implications for students' physical health, academic achievement, and social development are discussed.