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Study: Eating Disorders and Bare Midriffs - Cheerleaders "At Risk"

October 4, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The cheerleader - paragon of collegiate beauty, athleticism and school spirit - runs a serious risk of developing eating disorders, according to a new study of cheerleaders' body image from the University of South Carolina.

Assistant Professor Dr. Toni Torres-McGehee polled 136 college cheerleaders, and found fully a third of them at risk because of what they think their coaches think of their size - particularly those who wear midriff-baring uniforms.

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

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

"Regardless of 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, which says a lot about the impact of a midriff."

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.

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 appropriate comments by them and their squads 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, and that if they're wearing bare midriffs, they need to even be more attuned to those types of factors."

The AACCA certifies individuals who are responsible for the safety of cheerleaders. It is a nonprofit founded with the support of Varsity Brands, one of several companies conducting national cheerleading competitions.

The study is at

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO