Sports Plus Cigarettes May Signal Eating Problems
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Although adolescent girls who participate in sports like ballet or gymnastics are more likely than their peers to develop eating disorders, the vast majority remain healthy.
Now, researchers have pinpointed risk factors among these teenage athletes that can help parents and coaches to spot problems. Depression, a history of sexual abuse, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, and drinking alcohol were found to be associated with a greater likelihood of having disordered eating habits in a study of over 5,000 7th-grade, 9th-grade, and 11th-grade public school students.
Disordered eating habits were defined as forced vomiting, using diet pills, or taking laxatives or diuretics to lose weight in the past week, explain researchers in the July/August issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.
Their study found that participation in a sport that emphasized the maintenance of a certain weight increased the risk for disordered eating by one and a half. Girls who participated in these sports and reported disordered eating were also more likely to smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs, have attempted suicide, have reported a history of sexual abuse, and feel that they did not communicate well with family members.
However, most girls involved in these sports, who do not have an eating disorder, were less likely to smoke marijuana and report symptoms of depression, Dr. Nancy E. Sherwood from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and colleagues, report.
The study shows that overall, weight-related sports can benefit girls; but participation in these sports, coupled with specific risk factors, may make some girls more vulnerable to unhealthy eating habits.
"Coaches and other education and health professionals should be aware that girls with these additional risk factors may be more likely to exhibit disordered eating," Sherwood and colleagues write. "Coaches should monitor their own behavior toward athletes and pay careful attention to messages they send regarding weight-related issues."