Skip to main content Accessibility help

Aesthetic Sports as High-Risk Contexts for Eating Disorders — Young Elite Dancers and Gymnasts Perspectives

  • Rita Francisco (a1), Madalena Alarcão (a2) and Isabel Narciso (a1)


This is the first study developed in Portugal which investigates specific characteristics of dance and gymnastics environments that make them high-risk contexts for the development of eating disorders. Four focus groups were conducted with thirteen ballet students from a professional dance school and nine gymnasts from a gymnastics club (aged 12 to 17 years old), which were subjected to an inductive-deductive analysis procedure. Specific risk and protective factors were identified. Among their respective sources of influence, teachers and coaches are those who exert a stronger influence upon young athletes. We also explored some themes related to the influence of peers, parents, and environmental characteristics, which could have an important role on the development or prevention of disordered eating.

Este es el primer estudio realizado en Portugal que tiene como objetivo investigar las características específicas que en el mundo de la danza y de la gimnasia pudieran ser factores de alto riesgo para el desarrollo de trastornos de la conducta alimentaria. Se realizaron cuatro grupos focales con trece estudiantes de danza profesional y nueve gimnastas (de 12 a 17 años). Las transcripciones de los grupos focales fueron sometidas a un procedimiento de análisis inductivo-deductivo. Se identificaron factores de riesgo y protectores específicos. Entre las respectivas fuentes de influencia, los profesores y entrenadores son los que ejercen mayor influencia sobre los jóvenes atletas. También se exploraron algunos temas relacionados con la influencia que tienen compañeros, padres y las características del entorno deportivo; los cuales pueden tener un importante rol tanto en el desarrollo como en la prevención de comportamientos alimentarios alterados.


Corresponding author

Correspondence concerning this article should be adressed to Rita Francisco. Faculdade de Psicologia, Alameda da Universidade. 1649-013 Lisboa (Portugal). E-mail:


Hide All
Aalten, A. (2004). ‘The moment when it all comes together': Embodied experiences in ballet. European Journal Women's Studies, 11, 263276.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Massachusetts, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes. In Damon, W. & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (5th ed.) (Vol. Theoretical models of human development, pp. 9931028). New York, NY: John Wiley.
Byrne, S. M., & McLean, N. (2002). Elite athletes: Effects of the pressure to be thin. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 5, 8094.
Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory: A practical guide through qualitative analysis. London, England: SAGE Publications.
Crago, M., Shisslak, C., & Ruble, A. (2001). Protective factors in the development of eating disorders. In Striegel-Moore, R. H. & Smolak, L. (Eds.), Eating disorders: Innovative directions in research and practice (pp. 7589). Washington, WA: American Psychological Association.
Davis, C., & Strachan, S. (2001). Elite female athletes with eating disorders: A study of psychopathological characteristics. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 23, 245253.
Donohue, B., Miller, A., Crammer, L., Cross, C., & Covassin, T. (2007). A standardized method of assessing sport specific problems in the relationships of athletes with their coaches, teammates, family, and peers. Journal of Sport Behavior, 30,375397.
Dosil, J., & Díaz, O. (2008). The importance of weight in some sports. In Dosil, J. (Ed.), Eating disorders in athletes (pp. 2340). Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.
Dosil, J., & González-Oya, J. (2008). Eating disorders and the athlete's environment. In Dosil, J. (Ed.), Eating disorders in athletes (pp. 4163). Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.
Engel, S. G., Johnson, C., Powers, P. S., Crosby, R. D., Wonderlich, S. A., Wittrock, D. A., & Mitchell, J. E. (2003). Predictors of disordered eating in a sample of elite Division I college athletes. Eating Behaviors, 4, 333343.
Garner, D. M., & Garfinkel, P. E. (1980). Socio-cultural factors in the development of anorexia nervosa. Psychological Medicine, 10, 647656.
Gvion, L. (2008). Dancing bodies, decaying bodies: The interpretation of anorexia among Israeli dancers. Young, 16, 6787.
Hausenblas, H. A., & Carron, A. V. (1999). Eating disorder indices and athletes: An integration. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 21, 230258.
Horesh, N., Apter, A., Ishai, J., & Danziger, Y. (1996). Abnormal psychosocial situations and eating disorders in adolescence. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35, 921927.
James, D. C. S., Rienzo, B. A., & Frazee, C. (1997). Using focus groups to develop a nutrition education video for high school students. The Journal of School Health, 67, 376379.
Kerr, G., Berman, E., & De Souza, M. J. (2006). Disordered eating in women's gymnastics: Perspectives of athletes, coaches, parents, and judges. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18, 2843.
Koutedakis, Y., & Jamurtas, A. (2004). The dancer as a performing athlete: Physiological considerations. Sports Medicine, 34, 651661.
Krasnow, D. H. (2005 December). Sustaining the dance artist: Barriers to communication between educators, artists, and researchers. Paper presented at the Dance rebooted: Initializing the grid, Toronto, Canada.
Levine, M. P., & Smolak, L. (2002). Body image development in adolescence. In Cash, T. & Pruzinsky, T. (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of theory, research and clinical practice (pp. 7481). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Lopiano, D., & Zotos, C. (1992). Modern athletics: The pressure to perform. In Brownell, K., Rodin, J. & Wilmore, J. (Eds.), Eating, body weight and performance in athletes. Disorders of modern society (pp. 275292). Malvern, England: Lea & Febiger.
Machado, P. P. P., Machado, B. C., Gonçalves, S., & Hoek, H. W. (2007). The prevalence of eating disorders not otherwise specified. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40, 212217.
Miles, M. B., & Huberman, A. M. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Morgan, D. (1998). Planning focus group-Focus group kit (Vol. 2). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Neumärker, K.-J., Bettle, O., Dudeck, U., & Neumärker, U. (1998). The eating attitudes test: Comparative analysis of female and male students at the Public Ballet School of Berlin. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 7, 1923.
Petrie, T. A. (1993). Disordered eating in female collegiate gymnasts: Prevalence and personality/attitudinal correlates. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 15, 424436.
QSR. (2006). NVivo7: QSR International Pty Ltd.
Ringham, R., Klump, K., Kaye, W., Stone, D., Libman, S., Stowe, S., & Marcus, M. (2006). Eating disorder symptomatology among ballet dancers. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 39, 503508.
Schluger, A. E. (2010). Disordered eating attitudes and behaviors in female college dance students: Comparison of modern dance and ballet dance majors. North American Journal of Psychology, 12, 117128.
Smolak, L., Murnen, S. K., & Ruble, A. E. (2000). Female athletes and eating problems: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 27, 371380.<371::AID-EAT1>3.0.CO;2-Y
Striegel-Moore, R. H., Silberstein, L. R., & Rodin, J. (1986). Toward an understanding of risk factors for bulimia. American Psychologist, 41, 246263.
Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1994). Risk and trigger factors for the development of eating disorders in female elite athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26, 414419.
Sundgot-Borgen, J., Skårderud, F., & Rodgers, S. (2003). Athletes and dancers. In Treasure, J., Schmidt, U. & Furth, E. v. (Eds.), Handbook of eating disorders (pp. 385400). Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons.
Swarr, A. E., & Richards, M. H. (1996). Longitudinal effects of adolescent girls' pubertal development, perceptions of pubertal timing. Developmental Psychology, 32, 636646.
Thomas, J. J., Keel, P. K., & Heatherton, T. F. (2005). Disordered eating attitudes and behaviors in ballet students: Examination of environmental and individual risk factors. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38, 263268.
Thompson, R. A., & Sherman, R. T. (1993). Reducing the risk of eating disorders in athletics. Eating Disorders, 1, 6578.
Thompson, R. A., & Sherman, R. T. (1999). “Good athlete” traits and characteristics of anorexia nervosa: Are they similar? Eating Disorders, 7, 181190.
Tiggemann, M., Gardiner, M., & Slater, A. (2000). ‘I would rather be a size 10 than have straight A's’: A focus group study of adolescent girls' wish to be thinner. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 645659.
Toro, J., Galilea, B., Martinez-Mallén, E., Salamero, M., Capdevila, L., Mari, J., … Toro, E. (2005). Eating disorders in Spanish female athletes. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 26, 693700.


Aesthetic Sports as High-Risk Contexts for Eating Disorders — Young Elite Dancers and Gymnasts Perspectives

  • Rita Francisco (a1), Madalena Alarcão (a2) and Isabel Narciso (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed