08 SES 13 JS, Making Links Between Health, Physical Activity and Wellbeing
Joint Paper Session NW 08 and NW 18
This study addresses the mental health and well-being of young people in Norway and the role of PE, in particular, therein. Findings from national surveys reveal that the majority of children and young people in Norway participate in sport and that young Norwegians are the quintessential sporting omnivores, participating in a broad range of sports from a young age (Bakken,2017;Green, Thurston, Vaage & Roberts, 2015). At the same time, however, studies indicate an increase in the proportion of Norwegian youngsters reporting mental health problems, notably in the form of stress and particularly in connection with school (Eriksen, Sletten ,Bakken & Soest,2017;.Lillejord, Børte, Rudd, & Morgan, 2017). Recently, as a part of a strategy to improve mental health, the Norwegian government has implemented ‘mastery of life and public health’ as an interdisciplinary theme in schools on the grounds that “good health choices are a part of mastering life, and knowledge about physical and mental health and the consequences of lifestyle has great significance”. In addition, the government has set a target of increasing the proportion of youngsters meeting recommendations for daily physical activity (60 minutes a day). As schools include all children and young people and therefore has the opportunity to provide physical activity and enjoyment of movement across socio- economic status and cultural backgrounds, the Government aims to enable schools to ensure daily physical activity for all children and youngsters, both through and beyond PE.
Such strategies beg questions of the supposedly beneficial relationship between physical activity (PA), sport and mental health. More specifically, they raise questions regarding the role of school physical education (PE) as a suitable vehicle for mental as well as physical health promotion. PE takes a variety of forms and is experienced by young people in a variety of ways with a variety of consequences for their views and involvement. So, how do young people themselves actually experience PE and what do they perceive as the various processes and mechanisms that have the potential to promote mental health?
The over-arching aim of the study was to establish what, if any, contribution PE in Norway makes to young people’s mental health from youngsters’ perspectives. The study adopted a sociological framework on the grounds that young people, above all others, cannot profitably be viewed as isolated, self-contained entities detached from the social fabric (Sibeon, 2004). Situating young people within networks of interdependent relations (within and beyond school) highlights the importance of social processes of human interaction in the generation of health and wellbeing.
Methods In order to recruit young people from different backgrounds, schools were purposively sampled with regard to size, urban-rural location and ethnic mix. A total of eight secondary schools were included in the study, four on the west coast of Norway and four in the inland region. In discussion with the researcher, PE teachers in each school recruited young people to the study using the following criteria: (i) young people of any sporting background, to include those highly engaged in sport as well as those much less engaged (ii) young boys and girls (organized in single- sex groups) (iii) members of friendship groups. PE teachers were asked to use these criteria ‘to the best of their knowledge’, and, if necessary, to put emphasis on friendship groups in order to facilitate a comfortable atmosphere within the groups. The size of the focus groups varied from four to eight. Participation was by voluntary informed consent. The study received ethical approval from Norwegian Social Science Data Services (NSD). The study adopted a qualitative approach. Data were generated through 31 focus groups involving 148 youngsters (68 girls and 80 boys) from the 10th grade (age 15-16 year-olds). Open ended questions relating to the following areas were included in the focus group schedule: being 15/16-year-olds; the health of 15/16-year-olds; and, experiences from and perceptions of PE with an emphasis on their perceptions of causes and consequences of their PE experiences. The open-ended questions were designed to generate discussions that captured the views and perceptions of the youngsters themselves. Furthermore, a variety of probes were used at key points to encourage the generation of rich and detailed data and clarify complex issues. All focus groups were digitally recorded and subsequently transcribed verbatim. Analysis was informed by grounded theory, as presented by Charmaz (2006), in order to construct analytic codes and categories from data in a primarily inductive way. This facilitated an understanding of how young people constructed meanings and actions in specific situations given that ‘purposes and objectives arise under particular historical, social and situational conditions’ (Charmaz, 2006). The field work was conducted between February and June 2017.
Results Preliminary analysis suggests that Norwegian youngsters perceive being 15 as stressful, partly in relation to school performance but also as a result of pressure to perform optimally in multiple arenas simultaneously. These arenas included being socially active, both on social media and in the `real world`, being healthy and looking fit, succeeding educationally (ensuring ‘a good life’ in the future), and performing well in sporting and/or cultural arenas during leisure time. Being considered successful in these terms in the eyes of those perceived as significant others, for some including `likes` on social media, were considered to be significant markers for perceived wellbeing. The youngsters referred to the prevalence of unrealistic views of what might be considered ‘normal’ problems and thoughts, culminating in an impression that everyone else appeared to be coping with the aforementioned pressures to ‘perform’ apart from themselves. Overall, PE was viewed as an energizing, active and social ‘time-out’ from theoretical subjects. Set against this, many also perceived PE as focused too much on performance and grading. Those less enamoured perceived PE to involve activities skewed towards the more physically competent pupils. In this regard, PE teachers were believed to hold unrealistic expectations in relation to pupils’ skills, failing to recognize and acknowledge those making an effort despite lacking ability. While some students felt marginalized, even excluded, by the content and delivery of PE as well as by the sporting hierarchy evident within the student body, it was noteworthy that some appeared willing to exclude or marginalize themselves. In addition, those considering themselves as less abled, felt particularly vulnerable to judgement by both peers and teachers in relation to sports performance but also their physical appearance. This vulnerability appeared to be especially constraining when the perceived existing norm was to aim for the accepted vision of perfection.
References Bakken, A. (2017). Ungdata. Nasjonale resultater 2017. Norwegian Social research (NOVA Report 10, 2017). Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London: Sage. Eriksen, I.M., Sletten, A.M.,Bakken, A., & Soest,V. T (2017). Stress og press blant ungdom: Erfaringer, årsaker og utbredelse av psykiske helseplager. Norwegian Social Research (NOVA Report 6, 2017). Green, K., Thurston, M., Vaage, O., & Roberts, K. (2015). [We’re on the right track, baby …], we were born that way! Exploring sports participation in Norway. Sport, Education and Society, 20, 285-303. Lillejord, S., Børte, K., Rudd, E., & Morgan, K. (2017). Stress i skolen – en systematisk kunnskapsoversikt. Oslo: Kunnskapssenter for utdanning. Sibeon, R. (2014). Re-thinking social
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