Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

Aesthetic Sports as High-Risk Contexts for Eating Disorders - Young Elite Dancers and Gymnasts Perspectives

Academic journal article The Spanish Journal of Psychology

Aesthetic Sports as High-Risk Contexts for Eating Disorders - Young Elite Dancers and Gymnasts Perspectives

Article excerpt

This is the first study developed in Portugal which investigates specific characteristics of dance and gymnastics environments that make them high-risk contexts for the development of eating disorders. Four focus groups were conducted with thirteen ballet students from a professional dance school and nine gymnasts from a gymnastics club (aged 12 to 17 years old), which were subjected to an inductive-deductive analysis procedure. Specific risk and protective factors were identified. Among their respective sources of influence, teachers and coaches are those who exert a stronger influence upon young athletes. We also explored some themes related to the influence of peers, parents, and environmental characteristics, which could have an important role on the development or prevention of disordered eating.

Keywords: eating disorders, ballet, gymnastics, adolescents, focus group.

Este es el primer estudio realizado en Portugal que tiene como objetivo investigar las características específicas que en el mundo de la danza y de la gimnasia pudieran ser factores de alto riesgo para el desarrollo de trastornos de la conducta alimentaria. Se realizaron cuatro grupos focales con trece estudiantes de danza profesional y nueve gimnastas (de 12 a 17 años). Las transcripciones de los grupos focales fueron sometidas a un procedimiento de análisis inductivo-deductivo. Se identificaron factores de riesgo y protectores específicos. Entre las respectivas fuentes de influencia, los profesores y entrenadores son los que ejercen mayor influencia sobre los jóvenes atletas. También se exploraron algunos temas relacionados con la influencia que tienen compañeros, padres y las características del entorno deportivo; los cuales pueden tener un importante rol tanto en el desarrollo como en la prevención de comportamientos alimentarios alterados.

Palabras clave: trastornos de la conducta alimentaria, ballet, gimnasia, adolescentes, grupo focal.

Eating Disorders (ED), defined as abnormal eating habits associated with a permanent worry about weight and body image, have been considered a public health threat, mainly affecting female adolescents and young adults. Over the last three decades, a great number of studies have documented a higher risk, prevalence, and incidence of ED among athletes, compared with the general population (e.g. Garner & Garfinkel, 1980; Hausenblas & Carron, 1999; Toro et al., 2005). Striegel-Moore, Silberstein, and Rodin (1986) compared the sporting environment to a subculture where the influence of environmental and sociocultural factors is amplified. Today's society constantly pushes individuals into achieving an "ideal" body through diets and exercise. However, athletes are also exposed to the internal pressures of their sport, which often overemphasize the link between peak performance and a specific weight (Hausenblas & Carron, 1999; Toro et al., 2005). On the other hand, high expectations and pressure from parents, coaches, and teammates are among the main factors causing ED (Dosil & González-Oya, 2008).

A meta-analysis of 34 studies ranging from 1975 to 1999 concerning female athletes and eating problems revealed that elite athletes are more at risk of suffering from ED than nonathletes or nonelite athletes, especially those from sports in which the required body aesthetic demands thinness (Smolak, Murnen, & Ruble, 2000). In fact, aesthetic sports, such as rhythmic and artistic gymnastics, ice-skating, or dance, are considered by Dosil and Díaz (2008), according to the United States Olympic Committee criteria, as highrisk sports for ED (as well as weight division sports, gym sports, or endurance sports). The judges' criteria which stress thinness are another essential factor in the etiology of ED in some sports (Thompson & Sherman, 1993). Therefore, ballet dancers and gymnasts, for example, are more prone to engaging in extreme and unhealthy eating and weightcontrol behaviors (Engel et al. …

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