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Study: Eating Disorders and Bare Midriffs – Florida Cheerleaders "At Risk"

October 7, 2010

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - While the Florida Gators, the Noles and the Hurricanes are ranked in the top 25 of all college football teams nationwide, now there's a warning for those cheering them to victory in the Sunshine State and elsewhere. Cheerleaders run a serious risk of developing eating disorders, according to a recent study of cheerleaders' body image from the University of South Carolina.

Assistant professor Dr. Toni Torres-McGehee polled 136 college cheerleaders and found fully one-hird of them at risk because of what they think their coaches think of their size - particularly those who wear midriff-baring uniforms, like most of the cheerleaders for Florida colleges.

"They thought the coaches wanted them to be smaller than they actually really were. It's amazing, the impact a coach has on a cheerleader."

She hopes coaches will be more circumspect in their comments, and that her findings will prompt colleges to ensure that cheerleaders have the same type of medical care and prevention programs that other student-athletes have.

Torres-McGehee's study - among other things - asked cheerleaders what they felt like in street clothes, cheering uniforms and midriff-baring uniforms. She found those wearing the latter at greater risk for body-image issues and other disorders.

"Regardless if it was daily clothing, a full uniform or a midriff uniform, they all wanted to be smaller. But the thing that stuck out the most was they wanted to be smallest in the midriff uniform."

Jim Lord, executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators (AACCA), says his group's safety course addresses the issue and cautions coaches about making inappropriate comments regarding appearance. He welcomes the study.

"This should kind of raise the awareness level for the coaches as they address their teams and as they teach their own cheerleaders what is appropriate from a comment standpoint. If they're wearing bare midriffs, they need to even be more attuned to those types of factors."

The nonprofit AACCA certifies individuals who are responsible for the safety of cheerleaders. It is a subsidiary of Varsity Brands, one of several companies conducting national cheer-leading competitions.

The study is available at www.bitly/aAcbCo.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL