UF Researcher: Athletes Likely To Have Symptoms Of Eating Disorders

GAINESVILLE --- Athletes are more likely than nonathletes to report symptoms of eating disorders, even though participation in sports can help young people have better self-images, a University of Florida researcher has found.

Performance and social pressures from coaches, judges and teammates may increase athletes' vulnerability to eating disorder symptoms, said Heather Hausenblas, an assistant professor in UF's department of exercise and sport sciences.

Hausenblas' study, which will be published in September's Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, was a statistical review of 92 separate studies that included 10,878 athletes. Hausenblas did the study with Albert Carron from The University of Western Ontario.

In a previous study, published in December's Journal of Sport Behavior, Hausenblas concluded that participants in athletic activities have better body images, higher levels of self-esteem and more interpersonal trust than non-athletes. Hausenblas said these qualities don't necessarily prevent eating disorder symptoms, because the drive for thinness often can be strongly motivated by other external factors and pressures.

Participants in aesthetic sports, such as gymnastics, diving and figure skating, may be more prone to eating disorder symptoms than other athletes, because they are subjectively evaluated by judges, so their physical appearance may play a large part in their success, Hausenblas said.

"They may be scoring higher on eating disorder indice tests [which test for eating disorder warning signs] because of performance and social pressures in their environment, like trying to maintain a lean body for optimal performance," she said. "These factors may, in a sense, raise more awareness to the athletes, and they may be more conscious of what they eat and how they look."

The most common symptom, Hausenblas said, is the "drive for thinness," which is marked by extreme dieting, fasting and a preoccupation with losing weight. O

Contact: Heather Hausenblas
University of Florida

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