Q & A: Ballet Students and Risk of Eating Disorders

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December 2007 Volume 18, Number 6
©2007 Gürze Books

Q: I treat many young women who are dance students, and recall that several decades ago research showed that ballet students had much higher rates of eating disorders than did women in the community at large. Does that trend still hold? Is there any information that’s more current? (K.W., Kansas City)

A: Unfortunately, but perhaps not surprisingly, the trend for female dancers to show an increased risk for eating disorders and symptoms related to eating disorders still holds. Results from a recent study published by investigators from the University of Pittsburgh suggest that eating disorders are still a significant issue for serious dance students. The study recruited 29 women with an average age of 19 years, and then compared them with samples of women with eating disorders and with healthy comparison women. Twenty-two of the dancers were from a college-based dance conservatory, five were in a professional dance company, and two were in an apprenticeship school that prepares students for professional dance careers. Eighty-three percent of the dancers met lifetime criteria for an eating disorder: 6.9% for anorexia nervosa (AN); 10.3% for bulimia nervosa, 10.3% for AN+BN, and 55.0% for eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Furthermore, on a variety of psychological subscales of the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI), the dancers looked much more like women with eating disorders than healthy controls (Int J Disord. Eat 2007; 39:503). These alarmingly high rates suggest that dance teachers, parents and students need to pay attention to the considerable risks for eating disorder-related problems among those who zealously pursue careers in dance.

— J.Y.

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