A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
September 18, 2008 Volume 39 / Number 1

Supersized P.E. : A Comprehensive Guidebook for Teaching Overwieght Students

New Book

Supersized P.E.: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Teaching Overwieght Students

National Association for Sport and Physical Education

Co-Authored by Josh Trout, PHD, Kinesiology

"OK, I have a class of 30 kids, and eight are overweight. What do I do?"

Josh Trout, Kinesiology, has heard versions of this question from physical education teachers all over the United States. In a country where about 19 percent of children aged 6 to 10 and 17 percent of adolescents are overweight, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this is a common challenge. And a question that, until recently, had few good answers, according to Trout.

"In the physical education literature," says Trout, "they talk about how to teach able bodied kids, how to teach students with disabilities, how to teach shy girls, macho boys… They cover the entire spectrum, but one of the glaring omissions is how to teach PE to overweight students." Trout’s new book, Supersized PE, co-authored with David Kahan from San Diego State University, is an attempt to fill this gap. He hopes physical education teachers, other educators, and parents can use the book to help students learn to love physical activity.

"We made Supersized PE as user friendly as possible. It isn't full of research language-we took the empirical evidence and translated it into lay language. Our intention was that PE teachers have this book on their bookshelf, and when they were confused about what to do about overweight students they could pull this out and use it as a resource manual."

Trout first noticed the gap in the literature when it came to overweight children and physical education while he was pursuing his PhD at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He visited a weight-loss camp in Southern California and interviewed teens and their parents about their perceptions of physical education. As expected, few of them felt comfortable in gym class. "Most overweight teens have negative perceptions of physical education that date back to elementary school," says Trout.

Intrigued by the challenges of overcoming this negative perception and instilling a lifelong love of physical activity, Trout embarked on one of the first studies of physical education and overweight children. In 2004, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education approached him about writing a resource manual for K–12 PE teachers on the subject.

Supersized PE overviews the obesity epidemic, gives teachers an idea of what it is like to live in an overweight body, and provides a chapter on how to design curricula to meet national standards. But the "meat and potatoes" of the book, says Trout, is the "Top 10 Tips for Teaching Overweight Students." This chapter helps answer that question: "What do I do?”"

Trout and Kahan give suggestions that range from helping students find their areas of competency-by making the role of referee part of a basketball unit or allowing kids to choose whether to work on handstands or the balance beam in a gymnastics unit, for example-to encouraging them to develop a social support network.

Trout points out that overweight students don't inherently dislike physical activity. They hate PE because they dislike doing activities in front of their peers. Trout says that tweaking the curriculum just a bit can give self-conscious students opportunities to relax and enjoy the class. For example, instead of requiring students to run a certain distance, they can be given heart-rate monitors and asked to maintain their target heart rate for a certain amount of time. If students start the exercise staggered around a track, they learn about how to exercise at an optimal level.

"Physical education is designed to teach you to be physically active for life," adds Trout. "As an adult, when you’re trying to be physically active and maintain your health, do you do calisthenics and team sports? Nobody does. So why would you do that as your elementary training ground? It doesn’t make sense. Physical education should mimic what we would want students to do for a lifetime."

Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications