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Research projects

Discourses about the body, health, and weight amongst physical education teachers

About this project

Project information

Project status

In progress


Dean Barker

Obesity is said to be one of the greatest contemporary threats to global public health. An alarming discourse about the "obesity epidemic" or "obesity crisis", permeates health research and public debate. A number of scholars have proposed that the school, and specifically the school subject physical education (PE), has an important role to play in mitigating the "obesity epidemic". However, the strong emphasis on body size and weight that follows from a narrow focus on obesity excludes other ways of thinking about physical (and health) education (Webb & Quennerstedt 2010). In fact, the uncritical acceptance of obesity discourses in PE runs counter to an ambition to promote health and wellbeing among children and young people. The aim of this project is to explore how teachers in physical education in compulsory Swedish schools articulate and practice, respectively reformulate obesity discourses. The questions that guide the research are:

• Which discourses on body, weight and health do PE teachers articulate and practice?

• What happens in the nexus between dominant discourses on obesity, the PE curriculum and the teaching practices?

• How does the teaching of PE contribute to constructing the non-slim body as deviant?

• In what ways do PE teachers question and challenge dominant discourses of body size and weight?

• Are there examples of alternative pedagogies and alternative ways of doing PE, i.e. not resulting from a primary concern with body size and weight?


Research funding bodies

  • Swedish Research Council