Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Disordered Eating Assessment for College Student-Athletes

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

Disordered Eating Assessment for College Student-Athletes

Article excerpt

Abstract

Sports have received widespread attention for the risk of disordered eating, but prevalence rates among athletes have varied from one to 62 percent across studies (Beals, 2004). One explanation for this discrepancy has been the tendency for previous studies to select "at-risk" sports for examination. The current study extends prior inquiry by expanding the sample to the entire student-athlete group at Ohio State University. Approximately 800 varsity student-athletes at this large Division I university completed the Questionnaire for Eating Disorder Diagnosis (Q-EDD; Mintz, O'Halloran, Mulholland, & Schneider, 1997) in 2001 and 2002, allowing gender and type of sport comparisons. The purposes of the study were to identify at-risk athletes as part of a screening process designed for eating disorder prevention, and to continue to refine the assessment of disordered eating in athletes. Not surprisingly, results showed that subclinical eating problems were more prevalent than clinical eating disorders in athletes, with 19 percent of female athletes and 12 percent of male athletes reporting eating disorder symptoms in year one, and 17 percent of female athletes and nine percent of male athletes in year two. Because the Q-EDD does not fully capture male body image problems, in 2002 questions were added to the Q-EDD that assessed preoccupation with muscularity, and preliminary findings showed that one percent of male athletes fit a diagnosis of Muscle Dysmorphia. For both years, athletes from lean sports reported significantly more eating disorder symptoms than did athletes from non-lean sports. Specific policies employed by this university and prevention strategies will be discussed.

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Eating disorders and body image concerns have been frequently reported within the athletic population (Beals, 2004; Engel, Johnson, Powers, Crosby, Wonderlich, Wittrock, & Mitchell, 2003; Sherman & Thompson, 2001). Athletes are often perfectionists (Gould, Diffenbach, & Moffett, 2002), and may seek a perfect physique in the hopes of improving their athletic performance. However, some athletes take these efforts too far and jeopardize their health when they engage in disordered eating. University athletic departments often struggle with caring for athletes who practice unhealthy eating and exercise habits, especially when these athletes refuse to seek help due to fear, embarrassment, or a lack of readiness for change (Bass, Turner, & Hunt, 2001). The high frequency of eating problems and the difficulties addressing such problems have led to the development of eating disorder policies and prevention programs in several athletic departments (Thompson & Sherman, 1993). When implementing such policies and prevention efforts, questions arise about their effectiveness and about targeting limited resources to where they are most beneficial. Therefore, there is a need to measure prevalence rates for eating disorders and subclinical problems among athletes accurately, and to use these data to inform prevention and treatment efforts. Past studies (e.g., Petrie, 1993; Sundgot-Borgen, 1993) have examined eating symptoms among different sports, mostly focusing on female athletes, but few studies have examined prevalence rates for male and female athletes across a variety of sports.

Estimating the prevalence rates of eating disorders in athletes is a complicated issue. Some studies have found similar rates for diagnosable eating disorders between athletes and non-athletes, but higher rates of subclinical eating problems for athletes (Brownell & Rodin, 1992; Hausenblas & Carron, 1999; Johnson, Powers, & Dick, 1999; Petrie & Sherman, 1999). Subclinical eating problems are restrictive and/or pathogenic weight control behaviors that do not meet full diagnostic criteria to be considered eating disorders (Beals & Manore, 1999). One study found higher rates of eating disorders for athletes (Sundgot-Borgen, 1993). …

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