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Jun 6, 2005 - University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. ABSTRACT. Certain university majors appear to be at greater risk of body dissatisfaction.

Vol. 11: e57-e60, June 2006

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Body esteem and eating behaviours in female physical education students K.S. O’Brien*,**, and J.A. Hunter* *Psychology Department, and **Department of Women's & Children's Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

ABSTRACT. Certain university majors appear to be at greater risk of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. The present study sought to examine self esteem, body satisfaction, and disordered eating in a sample of year one and year three female physical education students, and to compare them to a matched sample of non-physical education females. Year three, but not year one physical education females, reported greater rates of disorder eating, but lower global self esteem, than non-physical education females. Dissatisfaction with sexual attractiveness, physical condition, and weight, were significantly related to disordered eating behaviours. Further research needs to be conducted with university majors that place a high premium on physical form and ability. (Eating Weight Disord. 11: e57-e60, 2006). ©2006, Editrice Kurtis


Key words: Body esteem, EAT 26, females, physical education, disordered eating. Correspondence to: Psychology Department, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Kerry S. O’Brien, Dunedin, New Zealand E-mail: [email protected] Received: June 6, 2005 Accepted: September 19, 2005 e57

Research suggests that disordered eating peaks during university (1), with up to 50% of female students binging and 80% dieting, in their first year (2). Studies examining certain university majors thought to be at risk of developing eating disorders, notably dietetics students, have revealed mixed findings (3, 4), with entry level, but not advanced level dietetics students, reporting greater rates of eating disorders (5). Anecdotal reports suggest that physical education majors are also at risk of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. The link between female athletes and eating disorders, while complicated, is reasonably well established (6). Physical education programmes typically attract (sometimes through sporting scholarships) both élite and non-élite athletes. Others are likely drawn to physical education by their interest and investment in athleticism, physical ability, and health. Thus, investment in physical ability and appearance for this group is likely quite different to that of the general population. As a physical educator, pressure to appear, and be physically fit comes from both within, and outside the group. For example, physical educators portrayed as 10-20 pounds overweight were found to be less likely to be employed by public school hiring personnel (7). Indeed, pressure to

maintain a perceived ideal physique comes from the studies authors, themselves lecturers in physical education, who suggested that the findings should stand as a warning to physical educators to maintain a lean physique. Additionally, upon entering a physical education programmes one's target for social comparison may change from the general population, to peer group members, where a positive comparison on a physical dimension may be more difficult. Thus, social comparisons with other physical educators may lead to greater body dissatisfaction and disordered eating (8). There is, however, a paucity of research examining body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in female physical education students, or indeed how these attitudes may change throughout the course of training. This preliminary study sought to examine body dissatisfaction, self esteem, and disordered eating in a sample of female physical education students who were in either the second week of their first year, or near completion of their third year, of a restricted entry physical education programmes. A matched sample (i.e., age, BMI, education) of non-physical education female students was used for comparison. It was expected that female physical education students would have greater body dissatisfaction, and higher rates of disordered eating behaviours than non-physical education females.

Eating behaviours in physical educators

METHOD Participants Female students (N=228) from the University of Otago, New Zealand, participated in the study as part of their course requirements. A cross sectional sample of year one and three physical education (N=109) and psychology students (N=119) were surveyed. Sixty-seven (29%) and 42 (18%) of the participants were in their first (second week) or third year, respectively, of a restricted entry Bachelor of Physical Education degree programmes (65% of this sample were élite athletes at provincial, national or international level). The remaining participants were in either their first (N=69,30%) or third year (N=50, 22%) of a psychology degree. There were no significant differences in age between the respective year one students (physical education 18.34±0.64 years; psychology 18.46±0.78 years) and year three students (physical education 21.0±1.18 years; psychology 20.9±1.06 years). Similarly, there were no significant differences between the four groups in self reported BMI (overall M=22.70, SD=3.18). Materials A paper and pencil questionnaire was used to gather demographic details (i.e., age, height, weight) and measure body satisfaction, global self esteem, and eating behaviours. Body satisfaction The body esteem scale (BES) (9) is comprised of 35 items that assess participants feeling toward specific body parts and physical abilities using a 5-point Likert scale (1=have strong negative feelings, to 5= have strong positive feelings). The BES has three female subscales (sexual attractiveness, weight concern, and physical condition). Higher scores on these subscales indicate greater satisfaction. Eating attitudes The 26- item eating attitudes test (EAT-26) assesses symptoms and characteristics of disordered eating (10). The test is comprised of three subscales (dieting, bulimia, food preoccupation and oral control) which can be combined to give a total eating attitudes score. Participants rate whether individual items (e.g., "I engage in dieting behaviour") 'always', 'usually', 'often', 'sometimes', 'rarely', or 'never' apply directly to them. Only the positively rated items are scored (i.e., always=3, usually=2, and often=1), with negative responses scored as zero (item 25 is reverse scored). Participants scoring above 20 would typically be referred for more formal assessment of eating disorder.

Global self esteem The 12- item global self esteem scale from the self-description questionnaire III (SDQIII) (11) was used to assess self esteem. The SDQ III is the most extensively validated measure of self esteem currently available. An 8-point likert scale (1= definitely false, 8=definitely true) is used to respond to each item (e.g., ‘Overall I have a lot of respect for myself’). Higher scores on this scale are indicative of higher self esteem. Procedure Questionnaires were administered to participants seated approximately 4 feet apart in a large lecture room setting. Participants signed ethical consent forms, which were kept separate from the questionnaires in order to maintain anonymity. The questionnaires took approximately 20 minutes to complete, during which time no talking was permitted. Questionnaires were then deposited en masse into a large box. Data were analysed using SPSS for Windows version 11.0. Because the assumption of homogeneity of variance was contravened on a number of the measures (Levene's test), non-parametric tests (Kruskal-Wallis H) were used to assess group differences, with post-hoc tests conducted using Mann-Whitney U Tests. Spearman's rho was used to assess relationships between variables of interest.

RESULTS Mean scores and standard deviations for the EAT 26, BES, global self esteem, and BMI were calculated for each group (Table 1). Significant differences were found between groups on the dieting (p

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