A qualitative examination of young Australian women: Does childhood physical activity participation have a lasting impact on adult women body image?  — ASN Events

A qualitative examination of young Australian women: Does childhood physical activity participation have a lasting impact on adult women body image?  (#20)

Jacqueline Beadle 1 , Anita Star 1 , Joanna McCormack 1 , Nadia Maartens 1
  1. Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

It is recognised that Australia is currently experiencing an increasing prevalence of body image dissatisfaction (BID)1 , which is related to a number of psychological detriments. Of concern, are the growing numbers of females displaying eating disorder behaviours, suffering obesity or having a combination of these conditions.23 The role physical activity (PA) plays in BID is particularly important as it's readily promoted in obesity prevention programs. PA is also important for a wide variety of health benefits.4  The present study aimed to explore the perceived extent and importance that childhood PA participation played on adult body image. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 17 Australian females aged 18 - 30 years, who were enrolled in a tertiary education institution.  Data was coded and analysed thematically using an interpretative phenomenological approach. 

Results indicated a variety of perceptions in regards to childhood PA and its lasting effect on body image. The majority of participants enjoyed childhood PA and didn't relate their experience to body image. Participants involved in the more intense and competitive childhood sports reported increased negative awareness of body image and were more likely to report an ongoing negative impact. Overwhelmingly, a clear relationship existed between adult body image and PA.  A majority of participant’s reported BID, and that current PA was motivated by body image beliefs, with a strong emphasis on weight loss, despite all participants having a healthy weight.  Due to the growing obesity epidemic, PA is often promoted in relation to weight management. Whilst obesity campaigns aim to prevent health issues, they also may unintentionally increase the onset of body image and weight concerns.5  It could be concluded that there is an urgent need to evaluate the impact of the weight-focused message in Australian society and ensure all children and adults have a healthy PA experience. 

  1. Mission Australia. (2012). Youth survey 2012. Retrieved from http://www.missionaustralia.com.au/research-social-policy/115-research/research-social-policy/658-youth-survey
  2. Hay, P., Mond, J., Buttner, P., & Darby, A. (2008). Eating disorder behaviours are increasing: Findings from two sequential community surveys in South Australia. Public Library of Science ONE, 3 (2), 1-5.
  3. Darby, A., Hay, P., Mond, J., Quirk, F., Buttner, P., & Kennedy, L. (2009). The rising prevalence of comorbid obesity and eating disorder behaviours from 1995 to 2005. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42, 104-108.
  4. World Health Organisation. (2013). Physical activity. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/topics/physical_activity/en/
  5. Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity stigma: Important considerations for public health, American Journal of Public Health, 100 (6), 1019-1028.