University of Missouri - Columbia.
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Posted 10.03.05

MU Professor Tries to Predict Eating Disorders in Female Athletes

COLUMBIA, MO -- Approximately 8 million people in the United States have eating disorders, and it is estimated that 19 percent of college-aged women are bulimic. Athletes, in particular athletes that are in sports that emphasize a lean body or specific appearance, such as dance, gymnastics, figure skating, rowing and swimming, are at a higher risk for eating disorders. Now, a University of Missouri-Columbia professor is trying to determine psychosocial risk factors for disordered eating habits among female athletes at the college level.

Pamela Hinton, assistant professor of nutritional sciences at MU, conducted a study to determine whether the ATHLETE, a written questionnaire designed to assess psychosocial factors associated with disordered eating in athletes, was an accurate measure of the psychological predictors of disordered eating in athletics. She found that the survey was effective in predicting the presence or absence of disordered eating in female athletes.

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Hinton administered a series of surveys including the ATHLETE to 167 varsity female athletes from nine different sports at three NCAA Division I schools. The ATHLETE measures five variables: drive for thinness and performance; social pressure on eating; performance perfectionism; social pressure on body shape; and team trust. High scores in two areas, a drive for thinness and performance and social pressure on body shape, were the strongest predictors of disordered eating in the athletes.

The athletes ranged in age from 18 to 22 and competed in volleyball, swimming, basketball, cross-country, soccer, gymnastics, lacrosse, and track and field teams. More than 80 percent were recruited to play their particular sport in college, and 78 percent had received an athletic scholarship. Sixty percent of the athletes reported wanting to lose at least five pounds for their sport, while 30 percent were actively trying to lose weight for their sport. About 16 percent of the athletes surveyed either met diagnostic criteria or demonstrated symptoms for an eating disorder.

"We can use the questionnaire to determine which psychosocial factors are associated with disordered eating in athletes," Hinton said. "For example, if athletes who feel pressure from their coaches to lose weight are more likely to have eating disorders than athletes who don't feel pressure, then education of coaches may be an effective component of an eating disorder prevention program."



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