Eating disorder risk and the role of clothing in collegiate cheerleaders’ body images
Torres-McGehee TM, Monsma EV, Dompier TP, and Washburn SA. J Athl Train. 2012; 47(5): 541-548.
Due to the aesthetic nature of cheerleading, especially with increasing media coverage, cheerleaders are believed to have an increased risk of developing eating disorders. While studies have been completed on adolescent cheerleaders, little literature has addressed this issue in collegiate cheerleaders, especially with regards to the influence of clothing-related body image. Therefore, Torres-McGehee and colleagues completed a cross-sectional study of 136 NCAA division I and II cheerleaders (18-23 years old, 54 bases, 61 flyers, and 21 back spots) to (a) estimate eating disorder risk (b) examine pathogenic weight control behaviors, and (3) determine the magnitude of body image dissatisfaction relative to clothing type (comparison of daily clothing, full uniforms, and midriff uniforms). The participants completed a basic demographic questionnaire which included self-reported height, current weight, highest weight, lowest weight, and ideal weight. The authors evaluated eating disorder behaviors and body image disturbance based on perceived and desired body image by asking participants to complete The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and TheFigural Stimuli Survey (FSS), respectively. All surveys were completed electronically. Risk for eating disorders among all 136 cheerleaders was 33.1% (45 cheerleaders at risk, 91 not at risk). Flyers and college seniors were at the greatest risk for developing eating disorders (36.1% and 48%, respectively). The most common pathogenic weight control behaviors reported were using laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics (19.9%); binge eating 2-3 times per month (11.8%); vomiting to control weight or shape at least once per month (9.6%); and exercising for more than 60 minutes a least once per month (1.5%). Body image perception-by-clothing type interaction was also significant, revealing that cheerleaders desired to be smaller than their perceived body image by clothing type (those wearing midriff uniforms had a greater desire to be smaller than their perceived body image than cheerleaders wearing full uniforms).
This study presents an interesting look at the risk of eating disorders among collegiate cheerleaders. Data presented suggest that those most at risk were flyers wearing the most revealing uniforms (midriffs). While the data should be interpreted cautiously, (possible reporting bias as all surveys were self-reported and a response rate of only 40%) they do show evidence that more needs to be done with regards to addressing eating disorders among collegiate cheerleaders. Currently, the NCAA does not consider cheerleading a varsity sport. Therefore, cheerleaders are not required to adhere to the same dietary and weight loss supplement guidelines other varsity sports, yet the risk of disordered eating is apparent. To address this, future research should look at a more diverse population (males and females), and control for reporting bias such as ideal weight, and current weight (subjects may have reported lower than actual weights). Future research may also seek to examine the role of increased media coverage of cheerleading and its relationship to body image. Tell us what you have seen. Have you dealt with cheerleaders struggling with eating disorders and do they fit this at risk population? Do you currently employ any additional regulations on cheerleaders to address the issue of eating disorders?
Written by: Kyle P. Harris
Reviewed by: Laura McDonald
Related Posts:Torres-McGehee TM, Monsma EV, Dompier TP, & Washburn SA (2012). Eating disorder risk and the role of clothing in collegiate cheerleaders' body images. Journal of Athletic Training, 47 (5), 541-8 PMID: 23068592