A recent study published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders says that university undergraduate women who actively participate in sports and exercise-related activities tend to have higher rates of attitudes and behaviors related to eating disorders compared to those who do not regularly exercise.

The researchers concluded that women who have higher anxiety about their sport or exercise-related performance were even more likely to experience eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction. This study is one of the first to document that women who participate in high levels of athletic competition and have sports anxiety are more likely to experience eating disorder symptoms.

The study was conducted with 274 female undergraduates from a large southeastern university. It examined whether differences in eating disorder symptoms exist between women who are varsity athletes (exercised an average of two hours per day), club athletes (practiced their sport an average of four times per week), independent exercisers (people who exercised on their own at least three times per week) and non-exercisers (people who exercise 0-2 times per week on average).

All participants completed the Eating Disorders Inventory, a self-report measuring eating related behaviors and attitudes; the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, a measurement tool used to evaluate self-esteem; and the Physical Activity and Sport Anxiety Scale, a questionnaire used to assess social fear and avoidance of physical activity or athletic situations.

This study has long-term significance in that the data suggest that coaches and athletic departments of competitive athletes should be on the look-out for sports-related anxiety as these athletes may be at higher risk for eating disorder symptoms in comparison to women who are less anxious about their performance and those who are not involved in competitive athletics.

"As women's participation in athletics increases, so too does the need for awareness of the link between eating disorders and sports participation among women. Coaches and athletic departments should consider consulting with clinicians to implement prevention and monitoring programs for the female athletes and independent exercisers at their universities," said Jill Holm-Denoma of the University of Denver, lead author of the study.