Sudbury

Female athletes face risk of eating disorders

Athletes have enough to be anxious about, such as taking part in competitions and maintaining their fitness level. But some athletes have added worrying about their weight to the list.

Sudbury health unit aims to put positive spin on youth's beliefs about food, weight, body image

Athletes have enough to be anxious about, such as taking part in competitions and maintaining their fitness level. But some athletes have added worrying about their weight to the list.

All week in Sudbury the local health unit has been promoting awareness around eating disorders, with a focus on young female athletes.

"A lot of the research has shown that female athletes are at a greater risk than male athletes, with about 15 to 63 per cent being affected in a variety of sports," said Désirée Venne, a public health nurse at the unit.

Venne said athletes in sports that include an aesthetic component — such as dancing, skating and gymnastics — are much more vulnerable.

Amanda Tessier, owner of a local dance studio, said she notices that worrying about weight is something that’s happening in younger children.

Worries starting at a younger age

She said it used to be 17- and 18-year-olds who were most self conscious about their weight.

"I’m seeing some 10-year-olds looking at themselves in the mirror and worrying about the way that they look," Tessier said. "That's awful, they shouldn't be thinking about that at that age."

Both Tessier and Venne said that girls should know that it's about changing the sport to fit their body — and not the other way around.

Venne noted that for an athlete, disordered eating can often start with the belief that only one body size is acceptable for a chosen sport. This belief may cause the athlete to want to "lose a few pounds" to improve performance, or to follow a strict exercise or eating regimen to maintain or increase their current body size.

"Our society encourages the thin ideal," Venne said in a health unit release. "Compound this with the pressures of excelling in sport and competition, and it’s no wonder that [so many] female athletes struggle with disordered eating."

The sport environment can make a difference in how athletes see and value themselves.

"Coaches, parents, and other key influencers play a significant role in shaping youth’s attitudes and beliefs about food, weight, and body image," said Venne.

She added the health unit offers a series of "BodySense" workshops that "provide key influencers with the knowledge and skill to create positive environments and contribute to the development of healthy athletes and youth."

To register for a BodySense workshop, phone 705-522-9200, ext. 336. For more information about eating disorders and promoting healthy weights, visit the health unit online at www.sdhu.com.

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