Background: Over the past decades, studies have shown increased prevalence rates of anorexia nervosa, and they have been associated with sociocultural pressure to be thin. Athletes may also be under sport-specific pressure to be thin. Research has taken interest in disturbed eating among athletes, and some of the results have suggested higher frequencies of eating problems in athletes than in non-athletes.
Objective: The purpose of this paper was to examine a selection of articles upon the subject “Eating disorders and athletes”. I have aimed to answer the following questions: 1) Are eating disorders more prevalent among athletes than non-athletes? 2) Are athletes in sports that emphasize leanness and low body weight exposed to a greater risk of developing eating disorders than those in sports that put less emphasis on leanness? 3) Do elite athletes show more disturbed eating than athletes at lower levels and those who take part in recreational sports? 4) Is it possible to identify personality traits, risk conditions and trigger factors associated with development of eating disorders in athletes?
Methods: After reviewing abstracts of 208 articles obtained by searching Medline, 12 articles were chosen as relevant for a critical literature study. In addition, general textbooks of eating disorders and psychiatry were used.
Results: The majority of the articles showed a higher prevalence of eating disorders in athletes than in controls. Leanness- and weight-dependent sports were associated with eating disordered athletes. Results weren’t conclusive on whether elite athletes were more at risk. Various risk and trigger factors related to sports were identified.
Conclusion: Higher prevalence rates of eating disorders in athletes than in controls are associated with specific sport-dependent factors, e.g. pressure to be thin.