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Eating Disorder Prevention in College Sports

Researchers and practitioners should address weight pressures in college sports to prevent disordered eating and body image disturbances. Health professionals and counselors need to become more aware of the weight pressures most frequently identified by male and female athletes. Whenever possible, attempts should be made to influence change in the existing sport-specific weight pressures (e.g., weight limits) that have become normalized within the sport structure (Reel, 2012). We describe weight-related pressures in sports (i.e., uniforms, teammates, weight requirements and weigh-ins, and coaches), along with recommendations for addressing these pressures within college athletics. In addition to addressing pressures frequently reported in sports, educational programs are needed to promote healthy habits and prevent disordered eating attitudes and behaviors among college athletes.


Across studies with athletic populations, uniforms have consistently been a frequent sport-specific pressure for male and female athletes (e.g., Reel, 2012; Reel & Gill, 1996, 2001). For example, 54% of female college cheerleaders and 41% of male college cheerleaders reported that the revealing team uniform created body image distress (Reel & Gill, 1998), and Torres- McGehee (in press) found that uniforms that displayed midriffs were more highly associated with body dissatisfaction. Similarly, 45% of female college swimmers and 99% of female college dancers reported that the uniform or costume served as a negative body image influence (Reel & Gill, 2001; Reel, SooHoo, Gill, & Jamieson, 2005).

Therefore, we recommend that college athletes choose team uniforms that are comfortable and do not hinder performance demands (e.g., jumps). Athletes should receive a custom fitting, or at least be able to select an appropriate size, rather than feel the need to lose weight to fit into a previous players uniform or smaller size. The motivation to wear extremely revealing uniforms should be evaluated across sports (Reel, 2012).

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