[Embargoed for release until 8 A.M. ET Friday, August 8, 2003, to coincide with a presentation at the meeting of the American Psychological Association in Toronto.]
MALE ATHLETES ALSO SUFFER FROM BODY IMAGE PROBLEMS, STUDY SHOWS
TORONTO – While eating disorders among athletes are often seen
as a problem mainly for women, some male athletes may also have their
own issues regarding body image, new research suggests.
A pilot survey of elite male athletes at one university found that about one in five believed they aren’t sufficiently muscular. While female athletes in the study said they wanted to lose weight (an average of 6.8 pounds), men wanted to gain weight – an average of 3.2 pounds.
“Some male athletes see pictures in men’s fitness magazines of big, extremely muscular men and feel that they don’t measure up,” said Jennifer Carter, a psychologist at the Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center.
Carter, who works with athletes at Ohio State, conducted this study of 882 athletes at the university, 57 percent of whom were men. She presented the results August 8 in Toronto at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
If male athletes feel they are not lean and muscular enough – and combine that with unhealthy behaviors, such as use of performance-enhancing drugs – it could result in a body image disorder known as muscle dysmorphia.
This study showed that about 1.1 percent of male athletes may suffer from this disorder. Carter said this is one of the first studies to ask male athletes questions that could support such a diagnosis.
“There hasn’t been a lot of research about eating disorders
among male athletes, but I think it may be a growing problem,” Carter
Sometimes their desire to be more muscular has little to do with improving their athletic performance.”
The survey asked several questions intended to find out what body image issues men had and what they were doing to become more muscular. Results showed:
The study of muscle dysmorphia in men is still relatively new, spurred by research by Harrison Pope and published in his book “The Adonis Complex,” Carter said. Muscle dysmorphia is not yet recognized as an official psychiatric disorder, mainly because there has been little research of the issue yet.
However, Carter said more attention needs to be focused on the problem.
“The issue for some men is meeting this ideal of the muscular bodybuilders they see in fitness magazines,” she said. “One thing we like to discuss with the male athletes is that these bodybuilders may be on steroids and their bodies may be unattainable without chemical assistance.”
This study, done in 2002, was the second yearly study Carter has done with athletes at the university. In both years, fewer than 2 percent had diagnosable eating disorders. Higher numbers showed symptoms associated with eating disorders – such as binge-eating and purging – but not severe enough to be listed as a disorder. The good news, Carter said, is that the percentage of athletes showing these symptoms declined from 2001 to 2002, from 15 percent to 12 percent.
In this year’s study, Carter also looked specifically at athletes in lean sports – sports in which there is added pressure to be lean for aesthetic or performance reasons. This includes sports such as gymnastics, swimming, diving, cross country and track.
The findings showed that 17.5 percent of athletes in lean sports showed symptoms of eating disorders, compared to 9.2 percent of athletes in non-lean sports, such as basketball, football and hockey.
“Even for the lean sports, there is not evidence that thinness equals better performance, Carter said. “But athletes in the lean sports feel added pressure to be thin, and may resort to unhealthy behaviors to achieve thin bodies.”
Contact: Jennifer Carter, (614) 293-2432;
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.firstname.lastname@example.org