An experimental investigation of physical education teachers’ and coaches’
reactions to weight-based victimization in youth
Jamie Lee Peterson, Rebecca M. Puhl
, Joerg Luedicke
Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Yale University, 309 Edwards Street, New Haven, CT 06511, United States
Received 12 July 2011
Received in revised form
27 October 2011
Accepted 31 October 2011
Available online 9 November 2011
Objectives: 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.
Design: This study utilized an experimental design that assessed participants’ reactions to situations of
weight-related victimization using hypothetical scenarios accompanied by photographs of youth.
Methods: PE teachers and sport coaches (N ¼ 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.
Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Nearly half of youth are vulnerable to consistent bullying from
peers during adolescence (Pepler, Jiang, Craig, & Connolly, 2008).
Overweight and obese youth are particularly likely to be involved as
a bully or a victim compared to their peers (Grifﬁths et al., 2006;
Janssen, Craig, Boyce, & Pickett, 2004). Recent research has docu-
mented body weight as one of the primary reasons that adolescents
report being frequently bullied in school (Puhl, Luedicke, & Heuer,
2011; Puhl, Luedicke, & Heuer, in preparation), with obese youth
being targeted regardless of their gender, race, social skills, or
scholastic achievement (Lumeng et al., 2010). Given that 31% of
youth are overweight or obese in the United States (Ogden, Carroll,
Curtin, Lamb, & Flegal, 2010), weight-related bullying places
millions of youth at risk for victimization and its negative
emotional, psychosocial, physical health, and academic conse-
quences (Hayden-Wade et al., 2005; Menzel et al., 2010; Puhl &
Latner, 2007; Puhl & Luedicke, 2011; Storch et al., 2007). Victimi-
zation is broadly deﬁned as a form of peer abuse involving frequent,
unprovoked aggressive behaviors (e.g., verbal teasing, relational
and physical bullying) committed toward a target (Kochenderfer &
Although overweight youth are vulnerable to weight-based
stigma from multiple sources (Puhl & Brownell, 2001; Puhl &
Latner, 2007), weight-related bullying appears to be heavily
concentrated in the school setting, including the classroom, cafe-
teria, playground, locker room, and hallways (Puhl, Luedicke, et al.,
in preparation; Taylor, 2011). In addition, despite assumptions that
school Physical Education (PE) is an ideal setting for the promotion
of Physical Activity (PA) and obesity prevention (Price, 1990;
Savage, 1995), research has documented increasing reports of
weight-based bullying toward overweight youth speciﬁcally
during school-based PA and in settings such as the gymnasium
and athletic ﬁeld (Faith, Leone, Ayers, Moonseong, & Pietrobelli,
2002; Puhl, Luedicke, et al., 2011; Slater & Tiggemann, 2010,
2011). For example, a recent study found that 84% of high school
students reported observing overweight students being teased or
treated in a mean way because of their weight during PA (Puhl,
Luedicke, et al., 2011). In addition, as many as 34% of adolescents
Corresponding author. Tel.: þ1 203 432 7354; fax: þ1 203 432 9674.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (R.M. Puhl).
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Psychology of Sport and Exercise
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/psychsport
1469-0292/$ e see front matter Ó 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Psychology of Sport and Exercise 13 (2012) 177e185