Many young athletes, ranging from thin, graceful gymnasts to stocky, powerful wrestlers, are endangering their health by going to extremes to control their weight, doctors warn.
Many develop eating disorders and risk long-term health problems by resorting to overexercise, unhealthy dieting techniques, vomiting, fasting, diuretics, laxatives and other drugs, a group of doctors said in an article published Tuesday.
“We have some evidence that in certain sports these practices are very prevalent,” said Gregory Landry, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin Medical School. He is a consultant to the Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The committee’s report, based on a series of earlier studies, was published in this month’s issue of Pediatrics, the academy’s journal.
One earlier study, of 257 high school wrestlers in Wisconsin, found that 36 percent had exhibited two or more types of behavior related to bulimia. In another, of 171 college wrestlers in Indiana, 9.4 percent said they vomited at least once a week to meet weight goals.
The pressure for gymnasts to stay thin has traditionally been a problem, especially for girls and young women obsessed with the myth that their appeal and agility will wane as their bodies develop, said Kathy Kelly, a former gymnastics coach who now is an administrator for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
Kelly said changes are being made. This year’s Olympic hopefuls have been counseled several times on proper nutrition and repeatedly examined by a doctor for nutritionrelated problems, she said.
But other athletes, such as wrestlers and youth football players, compete in divisions based on their weight. Players often try to shed pounds before an official weigh-in so they can avoid facing bigger, stronger competitors.