Adolescent body image in the sport context: Canadian adolescent and parent perspectives


Girls are particularly vulnerable to experiencing body image concerns, which may translate to the lower sport participation rates and worse sport experiences reported by girls. Meanwhile, sport participation might positively impact body image. Parents are well positioned to facilitate sport engagement and help their children navigate body image concerns. Yet, it is unclear whether parents perceive body image as a barrier and benefit in youth sport. This study's purpose was to compare Canadian youth and parent perceptions of the prevalence of body image as a sport barrier and benefit. Youth (n=997; Mage=15.84 years; 53.3% boys) and parents (n=2092) reported on their or their child's sport participation, barriers, and benefits via an online survey. Data were analyzed descriptively. Based on results, 58.9% of boys and 41.3% of girls reported participating in sport weekly. Approximately 1 in 3 girls (29.9%) and 1 in 8 boys (13.2%) reported body image as a sport barrier. Parents perceived body image was a barrier for roughly 1 in 10 daughters (10.8%) and sons (11.0%). About 3 in 8 girls (38.7%) and 1 in 4 boys (28.6%) reported sport as beneficial for their body image. Parents perceived body image was a benefit for approximately 1 in 3 daughters (31.5%) and 1 in 4 sons (24.2%). Findings suggest body image is a key aspect of the sport environment, and parents' perceptions were incongruent to youth responses, especially for girls. Equipping parents with knowledge on the role of body image within sport may help reduce the gender disparity in sport.

Acknowledgments: This work was conducted in partnership with Canadian Women & Sport. MFV is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. CMS holds a Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Mental Health.