Cross country, a sport where the lean excel, has led to multiple studies being conducted on the rampancy of eating disorders amongst its female athletes, but what about their male counterparts?
With the neglected audience in mind, Southern Utah University graduate student Guy Wadas went to work on discovering the prevalence rate of eating disorders in male high school cross country runners. The findings, no surprise, were what Wadas assumed.
“Most people recognize that female athletes are at risk for eating disorder behaviors,” says Wadas, a student within the master of sports conditioning and performance program. “This is one of the first studies to see if the behaviors associated with eating disorders are also rampant within male cross country runners.”
To study the effect of the high-intensity sport on its male participants, Wadas questioned 68 male cross country runners at 12 high schools within Clark County Nevada. Questionnaires asked athletes about their motivations to exercise, their current knowledge of eating disorders, feelings about running performance, and if weight affected performance.
“About 17.6 percent of athletes indicated at risk for disordered eating behaviors and another 17.6 percent stated that physical appearance was their main motivation for exercising,” explained Wadas, producing the same results as a recent study conducted with collegiate female athletes.
The study appeared in the online peer-reviewed The Sports Journal where Wadas along with Dr. Mark DeBeliso, SUU professor of physical education and human performance and research co-author, were able to conclude that the risk factors associated with eating disorders are flourishing within high school male cross country runners.
Wadas reported that if male runners continue to ignore and fail to recognize they have behaviors associated with eating disorders prevalence rates will continue to rise.
“Eating disorders have typically only been marketed as a female only club, and many high school boys may feel they are immune to it,” stated Wadas. “Male runners, whether they are drastically attempting to lose or gain weight, need to realize that what they are doing is not helpful and can have tragic endings.”
Wadas wasn’t shocked by the research, reporting that with the increase of societal pressure on males to look a certain way athletes are going to go to extreme efforts to either gain or lose weight to meet those pressures.
Both researchers are hopeful that the results will lead coaches, trainers and parents to be on the look out for behaviors associated with eating disorders not just in females but also in male athletes.
Wadas added: “This isn’t just for cross country runners. Any sport where weight loss leads to better performance is going to increase risky behaviors in athletes, male or female.”
Both Wadas and Debeliso see this research as a stepping-stone to studying larger groups of high school male cross country runners across the country to further confirm the patterns discovered in Clark County, Nevada.