Background: Low energy availability (EA) in female athletes with or without an eating disorder (ED) increases the risk of oligomenorrhoea/functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea and impaired bone health, a syndrome called the female athlete triad (Triad). There are validated psychometric instruments developed to detect disordered eating behaviour (DE), but no validated screening tool to detect persistent low EA and Triad conditions, with or without DE/ED, is available.
Aim: The aim of this observational study was to develop and test a screening tool designed to identify female athletes at risk for the Triad.
Methods: Female athletes (n=84) with 18-39 years of age and training ≥5 times/week filled out the Low Energy Availability in Females Questionnaire (LEAF-Q), which comprised questions regarding injuries and gastrointestinal and reproductive function. Reliability and internal consistency were evaluated in a subsample of female dancers and endurance athletes (n=37). Discriminant as well as concurrent validity was evaluated by testing self-reported data against measured current EA, menstrual function and bone health in endurance athletes from sports such as long distance running and triathlon (n=45).
Results: The 25-item LEAF-Q produced an acceptable sensitivity (78%) and specificity (90%) in order to correctly classify current EA and/or reproductive function and/or bone health.
Conclusions: The LEAF-Q is brief and easy to administer, and relevant as a complement to existing validated DE screening instruments, when screening female athletes at risk for the Triad, in order to enable early detection and intervention.
Keywords: Assessing Validity and Reliability of Test of Physiological Parameters; Bone Density/Endocrine Status; Nutrition; Women in Sport.