Female athletes and exercisers tend to exhibit eating disorder symptoms more often than those who don't exercise as regularly, says researchers from the University of Denver. The study is one of the first to document that women who worry about performing well at sports or exercise are far more likely to feel dissatisfied with their bodies and experience eating disorder symptoms.

Researchers looked at 274 female students, investigating whether differences in eating disorder symptoms exist between women who are serious athletes, club sports lovers, gym enthusiasts and women who don't exercise at all. The participants completed several questionnaires about attitudes and behaviors related to eating disorders, self esteem and sports. The researchers found that across the board, women who exercised were more likely to suffer from eating disorders and body worries–especially if they were anxious about their athletic performance.

This study has important implications for coaches and athletic departments of competitive athletes. Coaches should be on the look-out for sports-related anxiety as these athletes may be at higher risk for eating disorder symptoms in comparison to women who are less anxious about their performance and not involved in competitive sports.

"As women's participation in athletics increases, so too does the need for awareness of the link between eating disorders and sports participation among women," concluded researcher Jill Holm-Denoma from the University of Denver.

While the research did not cover men, it would be worthwhile to study whether men have increased anxiety and eating disorders related to athletic performance.