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01.12.2015 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Public Health 1/2015

Obese persons’ physical activity experiences and motivations across weight changes: a qualitative exploratory study

BMC Public Health > Ausgabe 1/2015
Andrea E. Bombak
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The author declares that she have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

AB alone designed and carried out the study and analysis and prepared the manuscript.

Authors’ information

AB is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary.



Obese individuals are encouraged to participate in physical activity. However, few qualitative studies have explored obese individuals’ motivations for and experiences with physical activity.


The physical activity experiences of self-identified obese or formerly obese persons (n = 15) were explored through in-depth, semi-structured, audio-taped, repeated interviews and ethnography over one year. Participant observation occurred at multiple sites identified by participants as meaningful to them as obese persons. Data from interview transcripts and fieldnotes were analyzed via thematic content analysis.


Underlying goals for engaging in physical activity were diverse. Emergent motivation themes included: protection, pressure, and pleasure. Participants were protective of maintaining functional capacity, establishing fit identities, and achieving weight loss. Participants also discussed feelings of excessive pressure to continue progressing toward weight and fitness goals. Enjoyment in physical activity was often a by-product for all participants and could become a sought-after endpoint. Finding an environment in which participants felt safe, accepted, and encouraged to be active was extremely important for continual engagement.


Obese individuals enjoyed physical activity and were concerned about maintaining functional fitness. Stigmatization and untenable goals and monitoring could disrupt physical activity.
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