Background: The prevalence of anorexia among young athletes involved in aesthetic sports (dance, figure skating, gymnastics, diving, etc) is increasing.  However, it is recognized that a subclinical form of anorexia among these athletes exists.  To try and describe this condition, “anorexia athletica” was coined describing athletes who lose weight, deliberately restrict calories, and are fearful of becoming obese.  However, diagnosis of this anorexia athletica is difficult.  Social (and professional) pressures are very high for some athletes, especially ballet dancers, and it is important for clinicians to distinguish between regimented yet healthful eating practices and clinical, dangerous anorexia nervosa.

Research question: What is the frequency of anorexia and other disordered eating habits of young, pre-professional ballet dancers?  How do their habits compare to patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or non-athlete high school students?

Subjects: The ballerina (experimental) group included girls age 13-20 who train at a high level at least 10 hrs per week.  The anorexia nervosa (AN) patient group consisted of 52 patients, age 15.8 ± 1.7.  The non-athlete group (control) group included 44 high school students, age 16.7 ± 2.1 not involved in competitive sports or being treated for eating disorders or psychiatric disorders.

Experimental design: cross-sectional (no intervention)

Protocol:  All participants completed demographic questionnaires.  Their height and weight were also measured.  The ballerinas and controls were screened for psychiatric disorders via face-to-face interviews.  Two types of questionnaires were used for all participants to assess eating disorders: one assessed prevalence and severity of eating habits, the other assessed eating attitudes as well as behaviors.  Lastly, the participants completed a multidimensional self-concept scale.