Overweight and obese adolescents are reported to be less physically active than their peers. Research-based knowledge about their views may contribute to a better understanding of key factors that may foster or undermine motivation for physical activity, and provide knowledge for the future development of interventions. This paper explores experiences of physical activity among overweight adolescents, age 13-14 years, participants in Young & Active, a web-based controlled trial intervention to increase physical activity (ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01700309). The theoretical perspective is based on Self-Determination Theory.
Two qualitative post-intervention research interviews, with a nine-month interval, were conducted with 21 adolescents, 15 girls and 6 boys to study short-term and long-term changes. The informants were recruited from a total of 84 participants from the Young & Active intervention group. Data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis.
The participants associated physical activity with organized sports and physical education classes at school, and as a means of promoting good health and attractive bodies. A majority of the adolescents said that they experienced their health as poorer than other youths, and expressed worries about their fitness and future health. Mastering a physical activity, being together with friends and having fun promoted motivation to perform sports. Not mastering an activity, or not knowing the others made them less motivated. None of the adolescents highlighted the importance of informal active living when asked about their understanding and experiences of physical activity. Consistency was found between the first and second interviews.
This study adds to limited research on overweight and obese adolescents’ experiences of physical activity. The participants’ views reflect opinions in society about physical activity, and its importance for health. Viewing physical activity as conducted within organized sports makes it necessary to look into how these are organized, structured and led, and what can be done to support self-esteem, autonomous motivation and participation. The ability to choose among available, affordable and desirable physical activities, together with friends, may promote participation and maintenance.
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