Prevalence of eating disorders in elite athletes is higher than in the general population

Clin J Sport Med. 2004 Jan;14(1):25-32. doi: 10.1097/00042752-200401000-00005.


Objective: The objectives of the study were to examine the prevalence of anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), anorexia athletica (AA), and eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS) in both male and female Norwegian elite athletes and a representative sample from the general Norwegian population.

Design: A 2-step study including self-reported questionnaire and clinical interview.

Setting/participants: The entire population of Norwegian male and female elite athletes (n=1620) and controls (n=1696) was evaluated for the presence of eating disorders (EDs).

Main outcome measurement: Based on the results of the questionnaire, all athletes and controls classified as at risk for EDs, and a representative sample of athletes and controls classified as healthy participated in the clinical part of the study to determine the number of subjects meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV criteria for EDs.

Results: More athletes (13.5%) than controls (4.6%; P<0.001) had subclinical or clinical EDs. The prevalence of EDs among male athletes was greater in antigravitation sports (22%) than in ball game (5%) and endurance sports (9%; P<0.05). The prevalence of EDs among female athletes competing in aesthetic sports (42%) was higher than that observed in endurance (24%), technical (17%), and ball game sports (16%).

Conclusions: The prevalence of EDs is higher in athletes than in controls, higher in female athletes than in male athletes, and more common among those competing in leanness-dependent and weight-dependent sports than in other sports. A collaborative effort among coaches, athletic trainers, parents, physicians, and athletes is optimal for recognizing, preventing, and treating EDs in athletes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Mass Index
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / diagnosis
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Norway / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sex Distribution
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports / statistics & numerical data*