Body Image, Figure Preference, and Social Comparison Among Female Athletes in Sex-Integrated and Single-Sex Athletic Programs
Howarth, Aimee Marie
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The purpose of the study was to further understand the increased risk of eating disorders among female athletes by exploring differences in three established eating disorder risk factors: body image, figure preference, and social comparison. The present study compared female athletes to female non-athletes and female athletes who compete in sports in a sex-integrated athletic program compared to those in a single-sex athletic program. Although research on eating disorders among female athletes is abundant, environmental influences such as sex-integration and single-sex environments have rarely been studied as risk or prevention factors. Participants were 228 college women ranging between 18 and 27 years (M= 19.36, SD= 1.71) recruited from students currently enrolled at Texas Woman's University (single-sex group) and The University of North Texas (sex-integrated group). 66 of the participants were athletes. Upon consent, the participants were instructed to complete a demographic form and four questionnaires with 77 items assessing body image, figure preference, and frequency of social and body comparison. The results showed that athletes in the single-sex athletic program prefer larger body types and report less comparison behaviors than those in the sex-integrated athletic program. In addition, female swimmers prefer smaller body types than soccer players. Correlations on risk factors found that as participants' body satisfaction decreases and drive for thinness increases, their reports of comparison behaviors increase. Overall, athletes rated their current figures smaller than non-athletes and have a smaller difference between their current and ideal figure ratings than non-athletes. Eating disorder risk factors vary by race and ethnicity, with White and Asian individuals at higher risk. Understanding the risk and protective factors in college athletes and college non-athletes is essential for the prevention and treatment of eating disorders. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.