First-semester undergraduate lab member, Danielle McDonald, recently gave an insightful presentation on an article titled “Eating disorder diagnosis and the female athlete: A longitudinal analysis from college sport to retirement“.
Eating disorders (EDs) are mental disorders defined by abnormal eating behaviors that negatively affect a person’s mental or physical health and typically include misperceptions about one’s body shape or weight. Additionally, they may cause disruptions in healthy eating behaviors. Female athletes are a group that is considered high-risk for EDs, especially showing Hugh rates of clinical and subclinical EDs, which may be facilitated by high-pressure sports environments. Research, using longitudinal designs, has also shown that EDs can change over time. The purpose of the study was to examine the long-term stability of eating disorders in female athletes into retirement.
The sample comprised of 193 NCAA Division 1 female athletes from 26 different U.S. universities, 122 of which were artistic gymnasts and 71 of which were swimmers. 41 athletes were six years into retirement, 57 athletes were five years into retirement, 50 athletes were four years into retirement, 43 athletes three years into retirement, and 2 athletes were two years into retirement. Results indicated that the retired athletes’ overall prevalence rates were 3.1% for clinical EDs, 26.9% for subclinical Eds, and 69.9% remained healthy.
Results also showed, between the two times, that athletes spent less time exercising, fasting times, laxative use, and intentional vomiting remained similar, and binge eating decreased. Furthermore, the overall number of athletes classified with clinical EDs decreased from 13 to 6, and only one athlete maintained a clinical ED between the two times, whereas the other 12 athletes were classified as subclinical or healthy. The results seem to support the trends consistent with past research that clinical EDs decrease from college to adulthood which is similar with non-athlete research. Disordered eating was also food to peak during late adolescence, during which a college social environment could be considered a risk for the development of an ED.
Danielle had very insightful takeaways about athletes and EDs. She stressed that athletes were a very vulnerable population at risk of developing eating disorders and that they can develop at a young age. A major point Danielle alluded to was the need for coaches to undergo training to understand the importance of eating disorders amongst their athletes so that they may better communicate, educate, and help support the athletes instead of pressuring them.
Awesome work, Danielle!