New Research ID's Eating Disorder Risk Factors

Study finds link between some sports and some lifestyle factors

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TUESDAY, July 30, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Girls who do gymnastics, ballet, and other sports that emphasize low weight are 50 percent more likely than other girls to have eating disorders, new research suggests.

A study in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion also says certain other risk factors -- depression, history of sexual abuse, or abuse of cigarettes, alcohol, or tobacco -- can be used to identify girls in these sports who are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders.

"Although weight-related sports involvement has been associated [in previous studies] with elevated risk for eating disorders, not all youth involved in [these sports] display symptoms," says lead author Nancy E. Sherwood, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

She and her colleagues analyzed data from 5,174 female public school students in grades 7,9, and 11, collected in a 1995-1996 Connecticut adolescent health survey. They found that girls involved in weight-related sports were 1.5 times more likely to have an eating disorder.

When they identified other risk factors for these girls, they found that being underweight wasn't a reliable indicator of an eating disorder.

The authors say coaches, school officials, and doctors should monitor girls in weight-related sports who have the additional risk factors for eating disorders.

The authors suggest coaches be careful about the messages they give these girls about weight related issues. Coaches should emphasize healthy approaches to exercise and eating.

More information

The Food and Drug Administration offers this fact sheet on teens and eating disorders.

SOURCE: Center for the Advancement of Health, news release, July 30, 2002

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