News Release

Eating disorder symptoms more common among female athletes and exercisers

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Chicago, Ill. – July 28, 2008 - A recent study published by the International Journal of Eating Disorders reveals 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.


This study is published in International Journal of Eating Disorders. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact

Jill Holm-Denoma is Lecturer/Clinical Associate, Clinical Child in the Department of Psychology at the University of Denver. She can be reached for questions at

The Journal publishes basic research, clinical, and theoretical articles of scholarly substance on a variety of aspects of anorexia nervosa, bulimia, obesity and other atypical patterns of eating behavior and body weight regulation in clinical and normal populations. Full-length articles, reviews, brief reports, case reports, research and clinical forums addressing psychological, biological, psychodynamic, socio-cultural, epidemiological, or therapeutic correlates of these clinical phenomena are welcome. Manuscripts submitted should represent a significant addition to our knowledge, or a significant review and synthesis of existing literature. For more information, please visit

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