Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Eating disorder risk tied to female athletes

Female athletes and exercisers tend to exhibit more eating disorder symptoms and behaviors than those who do not exercise as regularly, researchers have found.

Lead study author Jill Holm-Denoma, clinical associate and lecturer in DU’s department of psychology, worked with three researchers from other universities. They surveyed 274 female college undergraduates from a large southeastern state university, asking them about eating disorder symptoms, performance anxiety and their exercise habits.

Participants included: varsity athletes, who exercised an average of two hours per day; club athletes, who practiced their sport an average of four times per week; independent exercisers, who exercised on their own three times per week; and non-exercisers, who exercised up to two times per week.

In addition, Holm-Denoma says, women who experienced higher levels of social anxiety related to exercise — such as those who were nervous they wouldn’t perform well at their sport or who worried how they looked while exercising — were more likely to experience eating disorder symptoms than those who had low levels of anxiety.

Holm-Denoma says her research is an important development for collegiate athletic departments and recreation centers.

“They should consider screening regularly for eating disorders and/or help provide prevention programs to female undergraduates who are on sports teams or who regularly exercise” Holm-Denoma says.

The research was first reported in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.

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