Written by Isabella Pallotto ’19
Genetic and environmental factors are thought to contribute to eating disorders and disordered eating (Keery, van den Berg, & Thompson, 2004). Athletes, specifically in aesthetic sports such as figure skating or gymnastics, have been demonstrated to engage in more disordered eating than non-athletes, and researchers wanted to know if parents contributed to this pattern (Hausenblas & Carron, 2000). Francisco, Narciso, and Alarcão compared elite aesthetic athletes who compete at a national or international level, non-elite aesthetic athletes who compete recreationally, and non-athletes to examine which risk factors, specifically parental influence, predicted disordered eating among Portuguese female and male adolescents.
Differences in levels of disordered eating were seen among the female participants but not among the male participants. Female elite athletes showed significantly more disordered eating and concern with thinness than the non-elite athletes or the non-athletes. Parental influences predicted disordered eating in the elite athletes but not the non-elite or non-athletes. Additionally, parental influences predicted self-esteem in the elite athletes. A general social peer pressure to be thin predicted disordered eating in the three participant groups, but this social pressure influenced non-elite athletes and non-athletes compared to elite athletes.
These findings suggest that elite athletes are more influenced by their parents while non-elite or non-athletes are more influenced by their peers. Parents of elite athletes should focus on building their child’s self-esteem, but not around weight or shape, since high self-esteem can reduce the occurrence of disordered eating. Parents of non-elite athletes and non-athletes should focus on ensuring that their child has a body positive peer group to reduce disordered eating.
Francisco, R., Narciso, I., & Alarcão, M. (2013b). Individual and relational risk factors for the development of eating disorders in adolescent aesthetic athletes and general adolescents. Journal of Eating and Weight Disorders, 18, 403-411.