Objective: National health guidelines advocate increased physical activity in children and adolescents, but specific goals are not being achieved. Data are needed on variables that influence children's decision to be active or sedentary.
Methods: We tested the association of weight criticism during physical activity (WCA) with attitudes toward physical activity and reported physical activity levels in children. We also tested whether these associations were moderated by children's ability to cope with weight criticism. Subjects were 576 fifth- through eighth-graders who completed a questionnaire on physical activity patterns, weight criticism history, and coping skills.
Results: WCA was more common among girls than boys and among heavier children. In multiple regression analyses, WCA was associated with reduced sports enjoyment, perceived activity compared with peers, and mild-intensity leisure activity. These associations, however, were moderated by problem-focused coping skills such that the relationships were attenuated in children who were better able to cope with weight criticism. Avoidant coping skills also moderated the relationship between WCA and sports enjoyment.
Conclusions: Children who are the targets of weight criticism by family and peers have negative attitudes toward sports and report reduced physical activity levels, although these relationships may be buffered by certain coping skills. Assessing WCA and related coping skills may be clinically useful for identifying barriers to physical activity in certain children (eg, the obese) and may be a potential target for interventions.