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Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Elite Athletes Is Higher Than in the General Population

Sundgot-Borgen, Jorunn PhD*†; Torstveit, Monica Klungland MS*

Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine: January 2004 - Volume 14 - Issue 1 - p 25-32
Original Research

Objective The objectives of the study were to examine the prevalence of anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia nervosa (BN), anorexia athletica (AA), and eating disorders not otherwise specified (ED-NOS) in both male and female Norwegian elite athletes and a representative sample from the general Norwegian population.

Design A 2-step study including self-reported questionnaire and clinical interview.

Setting/Participants The entire population of Norwegian male and female elite athletes (n = 1620) and controls (n = 1696) was evaluated for the presence of eating disorders (EDs).

Main Outcome Measurement Based on the results of the questionnaire, all athletes and controls classified as at risk for EDs, and a representative sample of athletes and controls classified as healthy participated in the clinical part of the study to determine the number of subjects meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV criteria for EDs.

Results More athletes (13.5%) than controls (4.6%; P < 0.001) had subclinical or clinical EDs. The prevalence of EDs among male athletes was greater in antigravitation sports (22%) than in ball game (5%) and endurance sports (9%; P < 0.05). The prevalence of EDs among female athletes competing in aesthetic sports (42%) was higher than that observed in endurance (24%), technical (17%), and ball game sports (16%).

Conclusions The prevalence of EDs is higher in athletes than in controls, higher in female athletes than in male athletes, and more common among those competing in leanness-dependent and weight-dependent sports than in other sports. A collaborative effort among coaches, athletic trainers, parents, physicians, and athletes is optimal for recognizing, preventing, and treating EDs in athletes.

From the *Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education and the †Norwegian Olympic Training Center, Oslo, Norway.

Received for publication January 2003; accepted September 2003.

Reprints: Jorunn Sundgot-Borgen, Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education, P. O. Box 4014, Ullevål Stadion, 0806 Oslo, Norway (e-mail: Jorunn.Sundgot-borgen@nih.no).

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.