Study links body image to athletes' fertility

University Park, Pa. --- A Penn State study of female athletes has linked psychological stress resulting from a poor body image, along with inadequate diet and excessive exercise, to transient menstrual disturbances that could render a woman temporarily infertile.

Dr. Nancy I. Williams, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the study, says, "Most people are comfortable with telling women athletes who experience menstrual abnormalities simply to eat more and exercise less but our research is beginning to show that eating and exercise aren't the only factors. Our research indicates that there are also psychological and behavioral issues that need to be addressed in helping women athletes to prevent menstrual problems."

Williams will present the findings today (June 2) at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Seattle, Wash., in a paper, "Body Image, Disordered Eating, Exercise and Depression in Athletes and Non-Athletes: Association with Menstrual Status." Her co-authors are Dr. Kristine L. Clark, director of sports nutrition and instructor in nutrition; Dr. Shannon L. Mihalko, assistant professor of kinesiology; Angelique N. Matuch, graduate student; and Heather J. McConnell, graduate student.

Previous studies of menstrual irregularities in female athletes have focused either on eating or exercise. Few have simultaneously examined the interrelationships of eating and exercise with psychological or behavioral factors and most studies have not included a non-athlete group for comparison.

The Penn State study compared two groups of volunteers: 185 female varsity or club team athletes and 132 women who did not play team sports. About 30 percent of the athletes reported menstrual cycles shorter (less than 26 days) or longer (more than 32 days) than the normal range. Only 19 percent of the non-athletes reported abnormal cycle lengths.

Williams notes, "What was surprising wa

Contact: Barbara Hale
Penn State

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