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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Examining perceptions and experiences of physical activity, body image and physical self-concept in at-risk adolescent girls Carlson, Kaitlyn Amie


Body image dissatisfaction is highly prevalent among at-risk adolescent girls (i.e., those exposed to sexual exploitation, poor family support); yet, there are no specific considerations relating to body image, self-concept and physical activity (PA) for this sub-population. PA participation in adolescent girls is vital for overall health and wellbeing, and contributes to a positive body image and physical self-concept. This study examined the feasibility and potential effectiveness of an integrated PA and psychosocial program aimed at improving the body image and physical self-concept of at-risk adolescent girls. A pre-experimental, mix-methods design was utilised to collect data from at-risk adolescent girls (N=24) between the ages of 11-17 years, via survey research (n=22) and semi-structured interviews (n=16). PA perception and enjoyment were measured using the Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale, and perceptions of physical self-concept and body image were measured using the Physical Self-Description Questionnaire. In addition, PA behaviours, experiences and preferences, as well as perceptions and awareness around body image and the sociocultural environment, were explored through the semi-structured interviews. Paired t-tests indicated significant changes, from baseline to post-intervention, in components of physical self-concept, specifically coordination (p=0.05), PA (p=0.01), strength (p=0.03), and endurance (p=0.01). Using thematic analysis, three themes emerged from the interview data, including: 1) Physical activity in the eyes of adolescent girls with results indicating that adolescent girls have an understanding of PA, different types of PA, and the associated enablers and barriers to participation for girls of this age; 2) Friendships and small group participation were highlighted as important for PA participation, specifically engaging in PA with peers, in a girls-only setting, increased enjoyment and was important for promoting support; and 3) Being healthy to be happy described health according to adolescent girls, which involved awareness of body image and the sociocultural environment. When designing programs for this population, input regarding activity choice, and the involvement of a supportive adult are key. An integrated PA and psychosocial intervention shows promise as a strategy for reaching and engaging at-risk adolescent girls, particularly when it is delivered in the supportive, small group environment.

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