Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating Behaviors Among Male Collegiate Athletes

PREVALENCE OF EATING DISORDERS

ercise that male athletes are using to shape their
bodies. For now, however, health professionals
who work with male collegiate athletes should
be aware that these athletes are using traditional
purging behaviors at relatively high rates and
should monitor them for signs of physical com-
plications that may be life threatening.
Despite the improvements made for this
study-use of a psychometrically sound mea-
sure of disordered eating, sample drawn from
three institutions limitations exist that warrant
discussion. The primary limitation concerned
the sole use of a self-report questionnaire to
establish the prevalence rates of the disordered
eating categories as well as the eating and
pathogenic weight behaviors. Because eating
disorder symptoms generally are underreported
(Beglin & Fairburn, 1992), and are likely to be
more so among men who may perceive eating
disorders as a woman's problem and thus be
less willing to admit their own distress because
of the stigma they may be feeling (Soban,
2006), it is likely that the prevalence rates
found in this study fall short of the real levels
of disturbance. Although difficult to imple-
ment because of issues of time and access to
athletes, to address this limitation, future re-
search may want to include follow-up clinical
interviews to verify diagnostic status, as was
done by Sundgot-Borgen and Torstveit
(2004). Specifically, valid measures, like the
QEDD, could be used to screen large samples
of athletes. Those who score as either eating
disordered or symptomatic could be inter-
viewed by a psychologist using a structured
interview procedure to verify diagnosis. In
addition, during these interviews, researchers
could explore in more depth how men expe-
rience their disordered eating attitudes in
terms of their bodies and their psychological
and emotional functioning. Such an approach
would provide additional validity data regard-
ing the use of the QEDD with athletes; estab-
lish even more accurate prevalence rates;
identify those athletes who are suffering from
an eating disorder or who are at risk and could
benefit from treatment; and provide a richer,
more complete psychological picture of male
athletes who have eating disorders.
A second limitation concerned the ques-
tionnaires used in this study. Although reli-
able and valid, the measures did not address
the specific forms of exercise in which the

athletes engaged (just the amount of time they
spent exercising to control their weight), their
motivation for exercising (e.g., weight loss
vs. increase muscularity), or their use of other
health risk behaviors, such as the ingestion of
nutritional supplements or anabolic steroids.
Given that some male athletes want to gain
weight and others want to lose weight, it will
be important in future studies to explore di-
rectly their reasons for exercising to better
understand their underlying motivations. In
addition, because men may be more likely to
use pathogenic weight gain behaviors than
develop full-blown eating disorders (Cafri et
al., 2005), researchers should examine specif-
ically men's (athlete or nonathlete) use of
Creatine, ephedrine, anabolic steroids, and di-
eting to gain weight or muscularity.
Despite these limitations, this study's find-
ings have implications for mental health profes-
sionals who work with male collegiate athletes.
First, substantial numbers of male athletes can
be classified as symptomatic using traditional
measures of eating disorders. That is, they ex-
perience many of the established symptoms of
eating disorders, only at a subclinical level.
These problems exist across sport type, racial/
ethnic group, year in school, and age of the
athlete, and may be a precursor for a full-blown
eating disorder if left untreated. Thus, mental
health professionals who work with this popu-
lation will need to look beyond any biases they
hold that eating disorders are a woman's issue
only and recognize that they exist for men as
well (Soban, 2006).
Second, although male athletes experience
clinical levels of eating pathology at lower rates
than their female counterparts, they appear to
have similar levels of disturbances when spe-
cific pathogenic weight control behaviors are
considered. It may be that, because of the
unique pressures that men feel to be large,
lean, and more muscular (as opposed to the
drive to be thinner that women experience),
they are less likely to develop an eating dis-
order as currently conceptualized. Instead,
they may experience a cluster of problems,
such as depression, anxiety, body dissatisfac-
tion (not believing they are muscular enough),
poor self-concept, substance abuse (e.g., al-
cohol), and excessive exercising (with a focus
on weight gain behaviors, such as weight
lifting), that represent serious health risks but

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Petrie, Trent A.; Greenleaf, Christy; Reel, Justine J. & Carter, Jennifer. Prevalence of Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating Behaviors Among Male Collegiate Athletes. [Washington, D.C.]. UNT Digital Library. http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc31092/. Accessed September 3, 2015.