Body Image Amongst Elite Rugby Union Players

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There is limited information on the risk of eating disorders and body image of elite male athletes. However, research suggests there are some athletes who have poor body image and they may be at increased risk of developing eating disorders. Therefore, the current study investigated risk of eating disorders, body image, and the relationship with age, in elite rugby union players during their pre-season training period.

This cross-sectional study was undertaken at the start of the pre-season amongst elite rugby union players in New Zealand. Twenty-six professional rugby union players completed a 49-item questionnaire on body image and disordered eating. A ‘body image score’ was calculated from questionnaire subscales including ‘drive for thinness’, ‘bulimia’ and ‘body dissatisfaction’, with total scores above twenty indicative of poor body image.

Body image scores varied from 8-39 out of a possible 0-100. Disordered eating behaviours were reported, including binge eating at least once a week (15%, n=4/26), pathogenic weight control use (4%, n=1/26) and avoidance of certain foods (77%, n=20/26). There was a statistically significant inverse association between the bulimia subscale and age (P = 0.034).

At the start of the pre-season training period, many elite rugby union players experience disturbances in body image. The prevalence of disordered eating behaviours is of concern, and needs to be minimised due to the negative impact on health and performance. A focus on assessment and education of younger male rugby players may be required in order to reduce disordered eating patterns.

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