Peer Program Targets Eating Disorders in Athletes

Article excerpt

SEATTLE -- A peer-led program appeared to be successful in decreasing the risk of eating disorders among female college athletes, according to early results involving 64 participants.

The risk of eating disorders among female college women generally, said Carolyn B. Becker, Ph.D., of the department of psychology at Trinity University, San Antonio. Female athletes are a unique group with unique issues, she pointed out. "There is certainly a pervasive belief among many athletes and many coaches that weight loss is going to enhance performance," she said at an international conference sponsored by the Academy for Eating Disorders.

The Female Athlete Body Project was derived in part from a parent program at the university, the Sorority Body Image Program, which found that a peer-led, cognitive dissonance-based intervention reduced risk factors for eating disorders among sorority members, Dr. Becker said (J. Consult. Clin. Psychol. 2008;76:347-54).

The new program uses two interventions--a cognitive dissonance-based intervention and a healthy-weight intervention--that have been modified specifically for female athletes to cover topics such as sport-related body ideals and the female athlete triad. The former intervention focuses on rejecting thin ideals, whereas the latter focuses on embracing the healthy ideal, Dr. Becker explained at the conference, which was cosponsored by the University of New Mexico.

Attendance in the program is mandatory for all women participating in varsity sports and cheerleading at the university. The interventions are delivered in small, interactive group sessions that are conducted within teams, both to facilitate team building and to best address the differences in body image by sport. In the first year, half of the team receives the cognitive dissonance intervention and the other half receives the healthy-weight intervention; in the second year, the groups switch. The interventions are delivered over three sessions lasting for 1 hour and 15 minutes, each led by peers. …