Pediatricians: Watch for rise of eating disorders in young athletes

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Pediatricians are warning about a rise in eating disorders among young athletes.

Common eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa are showing up more often in young people, especially those who play sports.

Dr. Susanna Block, pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente in Seattle, warned about the pressure on student athletes.

“If the sports environment starts to focus too much on performance or weight, that can really lead to an unhealthy situation for these teen athletes,” Block emphasized. “Our goal is to help our kids get the benefits from sports without putting too much stress, to promote eating disorders.”

She acknowledged some sports focus heavily on weight, such as boxing and wrestling, where athletes are designated by weight category. Other, more aesthetic sports like gymnastics and diving also have a focus on weight. Block noted the unfortunate irony is eating disorders ultimately lead to poor athletic performance.

Block explained there are some risk factors, such as coaches who focus too much on weight or the belief being thinner could make someone a better athlete. She added the warning signs include children who restrict what they’re willing to eat or preparing food they do not eat.

“If they are doing things like going on ‘fasted runs’ or not eating but then going on a run,” Block outlined. “If you notice that they’re losing weight, this is something definitely to be aware of, and to bring up with them and with their physician.”

Block suggested a few strategies to prevent eating disorders, including getting rid of public weigh-ins, working with coaches, and parents playing an active role in their child’s life.

“For parents just to always stay in the loop, so you have a better understanding about how your child is thinking about weight, image, health, and just kind of aware about what is going on,” Block advised.

Featured photo: Eating disorders can lead to fatigue and muscle breakdown, which ultimately affects a young person’s athletic performance. (Peter Kim/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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