Female athletes and eating problems: a meta-analysis

Int J Eat Disord. 2000 May;27(4):371-80. doi: 10.1002/(sici)1098-108x(200005)27:4<371::aid-eat1>3.0.co;2-y.


Objective: The relationship between athletic participation and eating problems is examined using meta-analysis. Both the risk and protective elements of athletic participation are considered.

Method: Data from 34 studies were used to examine the overall relationship between athletic participation and eating problems. Relationships for specific sports, elite athletes, and various age groups are also examined.

Results: Athletes appeared to be somewhat more at risk for eating problems than nonathletes. This was especially true of dancers. Significant effects did not emerge for gymnasts. Elite athletes, especially those in sports emphasizing thinness, were at risk. Nonelite athletes, especially in high school, had reduced risk of eating problems compared to controls. Body dissatisfaction was lower in athletes.

Conclusion: There appear to be circumstances under which sports participation by women constitutes a risk factor for certain elements of eating problems. In other situations, athletic participation may be protective against eating problems.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adult
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / etiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports*
  • Women's Health*