Eating disorder behavior in physically active Norwegian women

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2002 Aug;12(4):248-55. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0838.2002.00390.x.


Competitive female athletes may have higher risk of eating disorders (ED) than recreational athletes, in part because low body fat may be advantageous in sports. However, women who participate in sports or physical activities might also do this for weight reduction, altering body shape, and for other food related reasons. This study was conducted to evaluate the association between hours of leisure time physical activity (PA) and prevalence of ED, and whether the association between the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI) scales and ED, as classified by the Survey of Eating Disorders (SED), was the same among women with high vs. low physical activity levels. The community-based study sample consisted of 898 female students aged 18-50 years. Subjects filled out the EDI, the SED, and a questionnaire concerning physical activity and demographic data. Physical activity was not associated with increased risk of having a SED-defined diagnosis of an ED or of having an EDI score greater than 40, which is sometimes used to define women at risk for having an eating disorder. Women with a SED-defined ED had higher scores on all subscales of the EDI, but did not differ with respect to age, BMI or hours of weekly activity. The strongest predictors of having a SED-defined ED were body mass index (BMI), two EDI scales, drive of thinness and Bulimia Nervosa, with no differences between the two PA groups. Among women with a SED-defined ED, those with more than 5 h weekly PA did not differ from others with respect to scoring on the EDI or BMI. Results suggest that hours of physical activity may not increase risk of developing ED. Effective interventions are needed to help the growing numbers of persons with body-image and eating difficulties. For some, moderate physical training might be helpful.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Exercise*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leisure Activities*
  • Middle Aged
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Surveys and Questionnaires