Richardson, Laura A. (2016). Weights: An exploration of university exercise science students’ views of obesity. Doctoral dissertation (Curricular and Instructional Studies), University of Akron.

Abstract: The prevalence of obesity stigmatization and discrimination is powerful, socially acceptable and widely under-explored. It has been well documented over the past two decades that people of size are targets of discrimination. With the escalating trend of obesity and vast documentation of weightism, future exercise professionals will treat and assist many patients of size. This study investigated the views of students towards obesity and weight management treatments in a first year Exercise Science course. Q methodology was chosen as a method to explore and measure students’ subjectivity. Measuring subjectivity can be difficult to quantify especially when addressing sensitive material such as negative or discriminatory perspectives. The statement of the problem consists of a two-fold agenda exploring students’ views and implementing Q methodology as a needs assessment to identify areas of obesity education that may be considered for potential modifications within Exercise Science curricula. This study aims to empirically assess differing views and report first-year university students’ perspectives of obesity, within an introductory exercise science course, as a starting point to determine if additional educational strategies should be implemented within the undergraduate exercise science curricula. Providing a robust education for preprofessional students is critical and in the process, it is a priority to help minimize possible obesity bias and discrimination. Understanding and evaluating students’ views towards course content material promptly during the undergraduate studies may significantly facilitate threading awareness and exposure of weightism early and continuously throughout the undergraduate program. It is essential for students (preprofessional) to be educated regarding extensive issues of obesity care while being sensitive to treatment options. Identifying discriminatory or unconscious bias among students is the first step. Subsequently, developing mechanisms and strategies for educators to increase bias awareness for obesity acceptance must follow.

The focus on students’ subjective perspectives related to obesity has received unduly scarce attention in previous studies. This lack of attention may be partially caused by difficulties in measuring subjectivity. This current study addressed the challenge by developing an analytical approach using a robust concourse that increased the precision of exploring views. This study revealed first-year university students’ views of obesity and demonstrated how Q methodology can be used as a needs assessment tool in Exercise Science undergraduate program.

Laura A Richardson <laura2> is currently visiting instructor of Sports Science and Wellness Education at the University of Akron. An article related to her dissertation appears in Advances in Physiology Education, 2015, 39(2), 43-48, available at http://advan.physiology.org/content/39/2/43.

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