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5 June 2009 PR 09/60

Loughborough Researchers start study to seek out prevalence of eating disorders in sport

Researchers in Loughborough University’s School of Sport and Exercise Sciences (SSES) are embarking on a study that aims to uncover the prevalence of eating disorders in athletes and sports performers in Britain. 

One of the first of its kind in the UK, the 18 month study will monitor eating habits of elite, developmental and recreational sportsmen and women in order to gain an understanding of how widespread illnesses such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa really are, and how important interpersonal relationships are in forming those habits.

Studies conducted outside of the UK have already demonstrated that around one third of athletes suffer from an eating disorder while up to two thirds participate in abnormal eating practices. Now a team of researchers in Loughborough led by Dr Sophia Jowett are trying to find out whether a similar pattern is occurring on our home shores.

“There is currently no evidence in the UK to suggest eating disorders are prevalent in sport, but anecdotally we hear it is an issue and that is one of the main drivers of this research,” said Dr Jowett.

“What is unique about our study is we are also trying to understand whether close relationships have an impact on athletes developing eating disorders. Mainstream psychology says close relationships have an affect but we want to ascertain whether this is the case here.”

Dr Caroline Meyer, Director of Loughborough University Centre for Research into Eating Disorders (LUCRED) adds:                                      

“I am delighted to be involved in the supervision of this work. Eating disorders amongst athletes are poorly understood and our work at Loughborough will significantly contribute to our understanding of this field.

”In addition to this prevalence study, LUCRED members are also researching the causes of eating disorders among both athletes and adolescents who engage in competitive sports.”

The group already have backing from a number of Britain’s sports governing bodies and the UK eating disorders charity B-EAT and are hoping to recruit up to 2,000 people for this prevalence study. Participants, all of whom should undertake organised sport on a regular basis, are required to complete a questionnaire, with a smaller number being contacted for further research.

It is hoped findings from the study will be used to inform sports governing bodies and athletes and their families and coaches on avoiding or curtailing eating disorders. 

Anyone interested in taking part in the study should contact Vaithehy Shanmugam on v.shanmugam@lboro.ac.uk   

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Notes for editors: Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2008 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top five universities in the UK, with 22 out of 30 of its subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. It was named winner of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other institution.

It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

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