Prevalence of Disordered-Eating Behaviors in Undergraduate Female Collegiate Athletes and Nonathletes

J Athl Train. 2005 Mar;40(1):47-51.


Context: As the number of female college students participating in athletics has grown dramatically in the last few decades, sports medicine health care providers have become more aware of the unique health concerns of athletic women. These concerns include disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis: the female athlete triad. Disordered eating appears to be central in the triad, and the literature has conflicting data regarding the influence of athletic participation on disordered-eating behaviors.Objective: To compare disordered-eating symptoms between collegiate athletes (in lean and non-lean sports) and nonathletes.Design: A volunteer, cross-sectional cohort study of female students during the 2002-2003 academic year.Setting: A National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I institution.Patients or Other Participants: Undergraduate females, including 84 collegiate athletes and 62 nonathletes.Main Outcome Measure(s): Symptoms associated with disordered eating were assessed using the Eating Disorders Inventory-2, a self-report measure of 91 items, and self-reported weight and menstrual function.Results: The athletes had significantly lower scores in body dissatisfaction (P = .01) and ineffectiveness (P = .002). No difference in mean body weight was noted between the 2 groups, but the nonathlete group had a significantly lower desired body weight (P = .004). Lean-sport athletes had a higher score on body dissatisfaction (P = .008) and lower actual (P = .024) and desired body weight (P = .002) than non-lean-sport athletes. A total of 7.1% of the collegiate athletes and 12.9% of the nonathletes were classified as having a high risk for disordered eating. Within the athlete sample, the high-risk group included 2.9% of the non-lean-sport athletes and 25% of the lean-sport athletes.Conclusions: In our study, female athletes did not exhibit more disordered-eating symptoms than women who did not participate in collegiate sports. However, our data suggest that lean-sport athletes are at greater risk for disordered eating than athletes in non-lean sports.