Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
March/April 2005 Volume 16, Number 2
©2005 Gürze Books
Athena, the golden-haired Greek goddess of logic and wisdom, seems a very fitting symbol for a pilot program aimed at helping young female high school athletes learn to avoid disordered eating and abuse of diet drugs. At Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, the ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) program offers 8 weekly 45-minute educational sessions for women athletes. The sessions are incorporated into the teams’ regular practice sessions (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2004; 158:1043).
ATHENA targets a wide range of unhealthy behaviors
Drs. D.L. Elliott and colleagues recently reported that they enrolled 928 students from 40 sports teams in the Portland area in the ATHENA program. The mean age of the girls was 15.4 years; 92.2% were white, and the researchers were able to follow-up 72% of the original group.
The educational sessions addressed healthy sports nutrition, effective exercise training, drug use and abuse and unhealthy behaviors and their effects on sports performance. The programs also offered sessions on media images of females and prevention of depression. The content of the sessions was gender-specific, led by peers, and carefully scripted, according to the authors. As the program progressed, the content was also altered to include material on controlling mood, believability of the media, and perceptions of closest friends’ body-shaping drug use. The girls were assessed by confidential questionnaires before and after their sport season.
Eight weeks later
After eight weeks, the authors found very positive changes among the athletes. Experimental use of substances, including amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and sport supplements was reduced significantly, and the girls reported less involvement in other risky behaviors, including driving with an intoxicated driver, not using seat belts, and first sexual activity. At the same time, the ATHENA athletes had positive changes in self-sufficiency during strength training and in healthy eating behaviors as well. Fewer athletes intended to use diet pills, vomiting to lose weight, smoking, or using muscle-building supplements.
The authors concluded that sports teams are a natural and effective vehicle for promoting healthy lifestyles and helping defeat disordered eating, use of athletic-performance-enhancing substances, and other health-harming behaviors.