Self-reported eating disorder risk in lean and non-lean NCAA Collegiate Athletes

  • Anna Holdiman McDonald
  • Mary PritchardEmail author
  • Mary Kate McGuire
Original Article



The purpose of this present study was to examine gender differences in overall scores on the Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college athletes in “lean” sports versus “non-lean” sports.


Using a self-report survey design, this study examined eating disorder risk in 121 NCAA college athletes, using the EAT-26. We expected that female athletes and athletes in “lean” sports would report higher scores on the EAT-26.


There was a significant effect of sport type (lean vs. non-lean) on eating attitudes and behaviors, with those in non-lean sports reporting higher scores, on average, on the attitudinal measure and those in lean sports reporting, on average, higher scores on the behavioral measure. There was an interaction between gender and sport type (lean vs. non-lean) on eating attitudes and behaviors. Male athletes in non-lean sports had the highest overall average scores on the attitudinal portion of the EAT-26, and males in lean sports had the lowest scores. However, on the EAT-26 behavioral portion, men in lean sports reported significantly higher scores than did men in non-lean sports. Female athletes, regardless of sport type, reported similar scores on both the EAT- 26 attitudinal and behavioral sections.


Our findings suggest that athletes, regardless of sport type and gender, may be affected by eating disorder symptomatology. Gender differences may be smaller in athletic populations than previously thought. Sport type may affect whether disordered eating symptomatology presents as attitudinal or behavioral in nature, especially in male athletes.

Level of evidence

Descriptive study, Level V.


Athletes Eating disorder risk EAT-26 Lean Non-lean 



There was no funding for this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological SciencesBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA
  2. 2.College of Health SciencesBoise State UniversityBoiseUSA

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