The benefits of sport are well recognized: organized athletics builds self-esteem, promotes physical conditioning, enhances skills, teaches the value of teamwork and sets a foundation for lifelong physical activity. Athletic competition, however, can also cause severe psychological and physical stress. When the pressures of sport competition are added to cultural ideals that emphasize thinness or a certain body type, the risks increase for athletes to develop disordered eating (irregularities in eating patterns and behaviors that may or may not develop into an eating disorder). Body image problems, disordered eating and fullblown eating disorders are common among athletes, a fact that only in recent years has become more widely recognized. A study of Division 1 NCAA athletes found that more than one-third of female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms placing them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Athletes who engage in disordered eating but fall short of the diagnosis of a full-blown eating disorder are still at risk for serious health consequences, and disordered eating itself is a risk factor for a full-blown eating disorder.
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