Sports courses hit by eating illnesses

January 23, 1998

Students on sports-related courses are more likely to suffer from eating disorders than other students and the population at large despite learning about nutrition as part of their degrees.

Diane Bamber, a PhD student at Birmingham University, interviewed 141 students taking sports and exercise courses and found a higher than average prevalence of eating disorder symptoms, particularly among the male students.

She said: "It is a known fact that students are at higher risk of eating disorders than the average population, as are some athletes. But it was questionable whether studying sport and exercise might increase the combined risk or inoculate against such risk."

According to Miss Bamber, the normal ratio of men to women with eating disorders is one to ten. In her sample, the ratio was one to four, suggesting men studying sport were far more likely to have symptoms of eating disorders than the average male.

In an eating attitude test, one-quarter of the female sports students scored in either the eating disorder or border areas, as did 8 per cent of the males.

Miss Bamber said: "In many ways, you would expect this population to be healthier. But this does not seem to be the case."

She suggested that the focus on exercise, diet and body image on sports-related courses might raise susceptibility among vulnerable students.

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