The purpose of this investigation was to examine overweight students’ perceptions of and experiences in physical education. Specifically, the applicability of learned helplessness as a framework to understand their experiences was explored. Participants were seven female and five male high school students whose body mass index was at or higher than the gender- and age-specific 85th percentile based on Centers for Disease Control growth charts. Data collection included formal interviews with students and their parents. The primary findings indicate that students have mixed opinions concerning the benefits to be derived from physical education. Despite recognizing the relationship between lack of physical activity and obesity, many participants avoided participation because they had been traumatized to the extent of exhibiting symptoms consistent with learned helplessness. Participants demonstrated greater concern about visibility than they did about their performance, which suggests they might engage in physical activity if shielded from the view of peers.
Trout is with the Department of Kinesiology, California State University–Chico, Chico, CA. Graber is with the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL.