Eating disorder risk and the role of
clothing in collegiate cheerleaders’ body images

TM, Monsma EV, Dompier TP, and Washburn SA. J Athl Train. 2012; 47(5): 541-548.

Due to the
aesthetic nature of cheerleading, especially with increasing media coverage,
cheerleaders are believed to have an increased risk of developing eating
disorders. While studies have been completed on adolescent cheerleaders, little
literature has addressed this issue in collegiate cheerleaders, especially with
regards to the influence of clothing-related body image. Therefore,
Torres-McGehee and colleagues completed a cross-sectional study of 136 NCAA
division I and II cheerleaders (18-23 years old, 54 bases, 61 flyers, and 21
back spots) to (a) estimate eating disorder risk (b) examine pathogenic weight
control behaviors, and (3) determine the magnitude of body image
dissatisfaction relative to clothing type (comparison of daily clothing, full
uniforms, and midriff uniforms). The participants completed a basic demographic questionnaire which included self-reported height, current weight, highest
weight, lowest weight, and ideal weight. The authors evaluated eating disorder
behaviors and body image disturbance based on perceived and desired body image
by asking participants to complete The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) and TheFigural Stimuli Survey (FSS),
respectively. All surveys were completed electronically. Risk for eating
disorders among all 136 cheerleaders was 33.1% (45 cheerleaders at risk, 91 not
at risk). Flyers and college seniors were at the greatest risk for developing
eating disorders (36.1% and 48%, respectively). The most common pathogenic
weight control behaviors reported were using laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics
(19.9%); binge eating 2-3 times per month (11.8%); vomiting to control weight
or shape at least once per month (9.6%); and exercising for more than 60
minutes a least once per month (1.5%). Body image perception-by-clothing type
interaction was also significant, revealing that cheerleaders desired to be
smaller than their perceived body image by clothing type (those wearing midriff uniforms had a greater
desire to be smaller than their perceived body image than cheerleaders wearing
full uniforms).

This study
presents an interesting look at the risk of eating disorders among collegiate
cheerleaders. Data presented suggest that those most at risk were flyers wearing
the most revealing uniforms (midriffs). While the data should be interpreted
cautiously, (possible reporting bias as all surveys were self-reported and a response
rate of only 40%) they do show evidence that more needs to be done with regards
to addressing eating disorders among collegiate cheerleaders. Currently, the
NCAA does not consider cheerleading a varsity sport. Therefore, cheerleaders
are not required to adhere to the same dietary and weight loss supplement
guidelines other varsity sports, yet the risk of disordered eating is apparent.
To address this, future research should look at a more diverse population
(males and females), and control for reporting bias such as ideal weight, and
current weight (subjects may have reported lower than actual weights). Future
research may also seek to examine the role of increased media coverage of
cheerleading and its relationship to body image. Tell us what you have seen. Have
you dealt with cheerleaders struggling with eating disorders and do they fit
this at risk population? Do you currently employ any additional regulations on
cheerleaders to address the issue of eating disorders?

Written by: Kyle
P. Harris
Reviewed by: Laura


Torres-McGehee TM, Monsma EV, Dompier TP, & Washburn SA (2012). Eating disorder risk and the role of clothing in collegiate cheerleaders’ body images. Journal of Athletic Training, 47 (5), 541-8 PMID: 23068592