Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tis' the Season?

Another article about women athletes with eating disorders appeared on Monday. This is two in about a week and a half.

These stories all have the same flaws. They talk about "eating disorders" which includes simple dieting (according to the American College of Sports Medicine), they don't compare female athletes to female college students, and they substitute intuition for facts when suggesting that lightweight rowers are more at risk.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, as long as dieting is considered disordered eating, 98% of college women evidence disordered eating. These researchers do themselves a great disservice here because when I see the words "disordered eating" I know that what follows is essentially useless to me. Yes, some serious eating problems are also included in disordered eating but using the broader category is not helpful.

This article actually does present some numbers. The first statistic is that about 1/3 of female athletes have some type of disordered eating. Huh? Can you imagine only 1/3 of college women answering "no" to a question like, "Over the past six months, have you dieted?" What was their definition of disordered eating? Again, this is useless. The next statistic is that 43% of female college athletes said they were "terrified" of becoming too heavy! "Terrified?" I'm terrified when I open my closet and find the Alien in there. I'm terrified when my parachute doesn't open. I'm terrified when... well, you get the idea. This has to be BS, and therefore, useless. Finally we learn that "2% to 3% of female college athletes have full-fledged, diagnosable eating disorders." Then we learn that this is, uhh, about the same as the general population. My next question - "How does that compare to the college female population?" Athletes may actually be lower, but we aren't told.

Then we have the gratuititous lightweight rowing comment, "Female athletes who seem especially vulnerable to disordered eating and excessive exercise are in either the 'thin-build sports' or activities that require a lean body weight, such as ... lightweight rowing, says Beals." [Emphasis mine.] Is this an opinion or a study result?

Eating disorders are a terrible, life threatening problem, but I've yet to see anything to suggest that they are a greater problem among lightweight rowers.

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