Importance of Weight and Physical Appearance in Figure Skating, Running, and Dance
Do sports that demand intensive training such as figure skating, running, and dance, place an unhealthy emphasis on the weight and physical appearance of athletes?
Participation in athletics has many benefits. Young athletes improve their physical and mental health, self-esteem, and self-confidence from their participation in competitive sports (Burney, 1998). In sports like gymnastics, dance, figure skating, and running, where athletes are to be judged in part on their physical appearance, there is a high percentage of disordered eating. Many of these athletes starve themselves to dangerous levels in an attempt to increase their scores and to please their coaches and parents. In general, competitive athletes train six days a week and many of them, particularly young females, burn more calories than they ingest. The stringent demands of these sports, in combination with coaches and judging, are creating an environment that leads many athletes to develop eating disorders in their quest for performance perfection.
Many coaches encourage athletes to be lean and fit in order to promote optimal levels of performance. Many young athletes, however, take a coach's or parent's suggestion and interpret it in the wrong way. A young athlete in many cases assumes that the suggestion to be lean and fit means they are fat and need to loose significant amounts of weight in order to win. The desire to be thin, like competitive sports, becomes a competition. Both concepts incorporate the desire for perfection and both require practice and training. The difference is that the desire to be thin, if practiced too long and hard, can lead to death.
Studies linking competitive sports such as figure skating, running, and dance with the development of eating disorders suggest that the prevalence of eating disorders among these athletes has greatly increased. The physical demands of these sports in combination with the emphasis placed on physical appearance by coaches and judges places incredible pressure on the athletes to be thin. In 1997, a study was conducted on "Body Image and Dieting Behaviors Among Elite Figure Skaters"(Zeigler, 1997). The study examined the relationships between body image, dieting behavior, and nutrition among forty nationally ranked junior figure skaters. The study took place at a skating camp in which the participants' caloric intakes were recorded for four consecutive days and blood samples were drawn (Zeigler, 1997). The population was, according to pediatric growth charts, underweight, yet the majority of participants were satisfied with their body weight and shape (Zeigler, 1997). The study, however, concluded that the majority of the athletes did not have a sufficient caloric intake and continued to diet. In addition, many of these young girls were experiencing a delay of menarche (Zeigler, 1997).
It is difficult to assess the accuracy of...