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Keywords:

  • eating disorders;
  • ballet dancers;
  • risk factors;
  • epidemiology

Abstract

Objective

To study the prevalence of symptoms of eating disorders and risk eating behaviours and the relationship between life at a dance school and the risk of developing an eating disorder (ED) in an adolescent population of Spanish dance students.

Methods

Questionnaires were used to assess attitudes to eating, cultural influences on the body shape model, eating disorders (DSM-IV) and risk factors for eating disorders in 76 adolescent dance students (age 12–17 years) at the Barcelona Theatre Institute. Subjects were compared with a community sample of 453 female adolescents. To study the relationship between ED and characteristics of this particular school, an original questionnaire was administered to 105 students at the school aged from 12 to 21 years.

Results

The prevalence of eating disorders and several risk attitudes and behaviours were similar in the dance students and the female adolescents from the general population. Students at risk of eating disorders perceived greater pressure from coaches concerning eating, appearance, weight and artistic performance; they felt less satisfied with their weight and weighed themselves more often; they avoided performing so as not to exhibit their body in public, disliked comparing their body with their peers and believed that audiences paid a great deal of attention to their bodies. In contrast, Body Mass Index (BMI) had hardly any influence on these experiences. Depressive symptoms were associated almost exclusively with experience of stressors and aversive situations.

Conclusions

Dance school students do not necessarily present a greater risk of ED than other girls of the same age. The risk of ED may be associated with greater pressure from coaches, with attitudes related to the ED itself, or with depressive symptoms, rather than with the BMI. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and Eating Disorders Association.