Eating disorders, which are highly prevalent among both male and female athletes, is a largely ignored problem, an expert says.
In a presentation at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists 2011, sports psychiatrist Alan Currie, MD, consultant psychiatrist and honorary clinical lecturer for the Assertive Outreach Team, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust, Newcastle, United Kingdom, said athletes get a "raw deal" when they develop mental illness.
"If you rupture your ACL [anterior cruciate ligament], within about 10 minutes 6 guys have gathered around you, within 2 days you've had surgery and a treatment plan, and everybody helps you with your rehab."
"If you become depressed, or if you get an eating disorder, you pretty much get abandoned," Dr. Currie, himself a former athlete, said in an interview with Medscape Medical News. "It doesn’t get recognized, it doesn’t get picked up, there isn’t the same coordinated response to get people well again."
In his presentation, Dr. Currie highlighted a paper by Jorunn Sundgot-Borgen, PhD, from the Norwegian School of Sports Science, Oslo, and colleagues showing that the prevalence of eating disorders is higher in athletes than in nonathletes, higher in female athletes than in male athletes, and more common in athletes competing in leanness-dependent and weight-dependent sports.
The researchers evaluated the entire population of Norwegian male and female elite athletes — 1620 in number — as well as 1696 controls, and found that 13.5% of athletes and 4.6% of controls had subclinical or clinical eating disorders (P < .001).
The overall prevalence of eating disorders among male athletes was 8% — 16 times the prevalence rate among nonathletic males. Among females, it was 20% — double that of female nonathletes.
I mean it only makes sense that elite athletes who must maintain a lean body weight for competition might find themselves spiraling into an eating disorder obssessive-compulsive cycle.
There needs to be more awareness and intervention when necessary.