Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Eating Disorders and The Olympics: Is the IOC Doing Enough?

It's almost time to let the games begin, but as controversy swirls around the hot topics of performance-enhancing drug use and gender testing at the Olympics, another major issue gets less attention from the officials: eating disorders.

According to a study published last year in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal, almost one in five of Britain's leading female distance runners has an eating disorder or has suffered in the past. We would venture to guess that the U.S. numbers match up pretty closely. Does anyone remember Dying to Be Perfect: The Ellen Hart Pena Story (Yep, Lifetime movie)? And it's not just runners, of course. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes highlighted the struggles of figure skaters and gymnasts (Uh, yeah, Lifetime again. Although to be fair, it was a book first). Gymnast Jennifer Sey just chronicled her own experience with eating disorders and depression in Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics' Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, and Elusive Olympic Dreams and American swimmer Dara Torres just inked a deal (sub required) to write her memoir, which includes a discussion of her battle with bulimia.

We talk about how the world of modeling is a breeding ground for disordered eating. Models get into the business when they are young and impressionable. They are often completely isolated from their support systems and they're thrown into a highly competitive environment where their success depends largely on their bodies. Take those factors off the runway and put them on a track or an ice rink or in a swimming pool and the risk for eating disorders is still sky high.

Many have questioned whether the fashion industry is doing enough to protect the health of models, but there has certainly been plenty of discussion and enough movement to develop some basic guidelines. The International Olympic Committee issued its own guidelines in 2005--in the form a 46-page position on the Female Athlete Triad (Disordered Eating, Osteoporosis, and Amenorrhea). While comprehensive, this paper is far from user friendly. The IOC also states that "International and National Federations and National Olympic Committees are encouraged to develop coach and team physician Female Athlete Triad education programmes, and where possible modify rules to reduce the incidence of the drive for thinness and subsequent unhealthy eating behaviours." Is that happening? If you know about any such programs or rule modifications, please let us know. Our search came up with nada.

1 comment:

Lu said...

Excellent post. Glad to see you bringing light to it.