Healthy living

Eating disorders in athletes overlooked

Eating disorders in athletes  overlooked Major problem, expert warns

Eating disorders are a major problem in athletes, and are largely overlooked, an expert has warned.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Alan Currie said that athletes’ attention to diet and weight can put them at risk of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Speaking at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Brighton the former athlete highlighted research which showed that around eight per cent of male athletes and 20 per cent of female athletes suffered from eating disorders.

Eating orders are difficult to spot in athletes because sports people tend to be lean. However, as with others who have eating disorders, athletes will also try to disguise the problem, Dr Currie said.

Even when an eating disorder is identified, sports people can find it hard to get help from mental health services, in stark contrast to the support they receive if they experience a physical injury, he added.

“If an athlete hurts a ligament there’s a whole team of people on hand to help them, but if they have a mental health problem like an eating disorder they can be on their own,” Dr Currie said.

“The world of sport needs healthy athletes. If we understand how the sports environment can contribute to putting athletes at risk of eating disorders, then we can manage those risks more effectively and let them know there are people to help them.”

Dr Currie called for umbrella sports organisations and individual sports governing bodies to be aware that athletes are particularly vulnerable to eating disorders and need help to access psychiatric services.

He added: “It would be great if the 2012 Olympics was about a better understanding of not only the physical, but also the mental health needs of athletes. After all, there is no health without mental health.”

This article was published on Fri 1 July 2011

Image © Fotolia

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