Female Athlete Triad: A Need to Raise the Bar for Coaches and Trainers

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
September/October 2008 Volume 19, Number 5
©2008 Gürze Books

The best way to prevent the female athlete triad is with education and a team of treatment professionals, Sharon H. Thompson, EdD, told clinicians at the International Conference in Seattle in May. The definition of the triad has also been expanded from disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis. Menstrual disorders, low energy levels, and low bone mineral density are now part of the syndrome. As many as two-thirds of female athletes are affected by these six symptoms. While female athletes rarely have osteoporosis, Dr. Thompson noted that athletes with amenorrhea have from 10% to 25% lower bone density at the lumbar spine compared with controls. Dr. Thompson also reported the results of a survey of 300 female collegiate cross-country runners. Of these athletes, 19% had current or past eating disorders, but only 1 in 4 had ever been treated. Dr. Thompson noted that fewer than 41% of Division 1 athletic teams and fewer than 33% of high schools have programs that address eating disorders. Of those that do have programs, only 9% require athletes to attend and only 15% insist that coaches also be educated about eating disorders. Dr. Thompson called for mandatory, comprehensive training for coaches and trainers at high schools and colleges, conducted at least annually.

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