Disordered Eating Takes a Toll Among Some Dancers

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
September/October 2006 Volume 17, Number 5
©2006 Gürze Books

Like other athletes, ballet dancers are at higher-than-normal risk for injuries such as fractures and tendonitis. However, many ballet dancers do not exhibit or report injuries, suggesting that certain subgroups of dancers may be at greater risk than others.

Since previous studies have shown that individuals with eating disorders are at high risk of fractures because of decreased bone mineral density, and ballet dancers are at increased risk for eating disorders, researchers evaluated the association between eating disorder behaviors and injuries among a large group of adolescent ballet dancers.

A group of 239 female ballet students from five U.S. ballet schools filled out a survey containing items on lifetime eating disorder behaviors and injuries. Jennifer Thomas and her colleagues reported the results at the recent International Conference on Eating Disorders in Barcelona, Spain.

Almost two-thirds had been injured

Nearly two-thirds of the dancers (148) reported a history of injuries such as stress fractures, broken bones, and/or tendonitis. Using logistical regression, the researchers found that a lifetime history of vomiting and/or fasting was associated with taking a greater number of days off from ballet practice or performances to recuperate. The researchers also reported that dancers who endorsed vomiting missed approximately twice the number of days of dancing after an injury than dancers who didn’t endorse vomiting. The results indicated that a lifetime history of fasting and/or vomiting is associated with lifetime injury as well as a longer recuperation period. A history of fasting and purging, along with other physical risks (the ironic flexibility of joints due to lax collagen in the joints, for example), places dancers at higher-than-normal risk of injuries.

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