Academic journal article The Sport Journal

Eating Disorders among Female College Athletes

Academic journal article The Sport Journal

Eating Disorders among Female College Athletes

Article excerpt

Eating Disorders Among Female College Athletes

Eating disorders (e.g., bulimia, anorexia nervosa) are a significant public health problem and increasingly common among young women in today's westernized countries (Griffin & Berry, 2003; Levenkron, 2000; Hsu, 1990). According to the National Eating Disorder Association (2003), 5-10% of all women have some form of eating disorder. Moreover, research suggests that 19-30% of female college students could be diagnosed with an eating disorder (Fisher, Golden, Katzman, & Kreipe, 1995). A growing body of research indicates that there is a link between exposure to media images representing sociocultural ideals of attractiveness and dissatisfaction with one's body along with eating disorders (Levine & Smolak, 1996; Striegel-Moore, Silberstein, & Rodin, 1986). The media's portrayal of thinness as a measure of ideal female beauty promotes body dissatisfaction and thus contributes to the development of eating disorders in many women (Levine & Smolak, 1996). Cultural and societal pressure on women to be thin in order to be attractive (Worsnop, 1992; Irving, 1990) can lead to obsession with thinness, body-image distortion, and unhealthy eating behaviors.

Like other women, women athletes experience this pressure to be thin. In addition, they often experience added pressure from within their sport to attain and maintain a certain body weight or shape. Indeed, some studies have reported that the prevalence of eating disorders is much higher in female athletes than in females in general (Berry & Howe, 2000; Johnson, Powers, & Dick; 1999; McNulty, Adams, Anderson, & Affenito, 2001; Sundgot-Borgen & Torstveit, 2004; Picard, 1999). Furthermore, the prevalence of eating disorders among female athletes competing in aesthetic sports such as dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, swimming, and figure skating is significantly higher than among female athletes in non-aesthetic or non-weight-dependent sports (Berry & Howe, 2000; O'Connor & Lewis, 1997; Perriello, 2001; Sundgot-Borgen, 1994; Sundgot-Borgen & Torstveit, 2004). For instance, Sundgot-Borgen and Torstveit found that female athletes competing in aesthetic sports show higher rates of eating disorder symptoms (42%) than are observed in endurance sports (24%), technical sports (17%), or ball game sports (16%).

Female athletes and those who coach them usually think that the thinner the athletes are, the better they will perform--and the better they will look in uniform (Hawes, 1999; Thompson & Sherman, 1999). In sports in which the uniforms are relatively revealing, the human body is often highlighted. For example, track athletes usually wear a uniform consisting of form-fitting shorts and a midriff-baring tank top. Dance and gymnastics uniforms are usually a one-piece bodysuit sometimes worn with tights. Athletes who must wear the body-hugging uniforms and compete before large crowds of people are likely very self-conscious about their physiques.

However, as is the case in most areas of study, not all research agrees. Some recent studies show that athletes are no more at risk for the development of eating disorders than non-athletes (Carter, 2002; Davis & Strachen, 2001; Guthrie, 1985; Junaid, 1998; Rhea, 1995; Reinking & Alexander, 2005). In addition, the majority of prior studies of eating disorders have restricted their samples to female athletes (and non-athletes) at National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I universities.

This study's purpose differed in that it involved an NCAA Division II university, where attitudes about eating were studied in relation to eating disorders in undergraduate female student-athletes and non-athletes. Relationships between eating disorders and a number of variables thought to contribute to eating disorders--self-esteem, body image, social pressures, and body mass index--were furthermore examined. …

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