Cheerleaders at Risk for Eating Disorders, Study Finds

College cheerleaders are at high risk for body image issues and eating disorders, according to a new study that suggests they are affected by how revealing their uniforms are.

The study of 136 Division-I and Division-II college cheerleaders looked at whether uniforms that bared their midriffs had any affect on eating disorder incidence or body image dissatisfaction. Participants were surveyed for weight, height and perceived ideal weight.

The cheerleaders overall were "highly disposed to eating disorders," the study concludes: 33.1 percent had some risk of eating disorder characteristics and/or behaviors. Cheerleaders on teams with midriff uniforms were most disposed to body-image issues.

“Maladaptive body image and eating behaviors can form during youth and last a lifetime,” said study leader Toni Torres-McGehee, an assistant professor of athletic training at the University of South Carolina. “Teams and coaches should consider the long-term effects of requiring cheerleaders to wear revealing uniforms simply for aesthetic reasons.”

Participants were also asked about how they thought their coaches and parents perceived their body image, and appeared most concerned they weren’t fitting their coaches’ ideals for body composition.

“The point of collegiate cheerleading is to create camaraderie and team spirit and to keep girls active and healthy,” Torres-McGehee said. “Cheer coaches should keep these ideals in mind and try to reinforce self-esteem among their team members.”

The findings are being presented today at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Live Science Staff
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