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

September 30, 2010

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The cheerleader - that 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 one-third of them to be at risk - particularly those who wear midriff-baring uniforms - because of what they think their coaches think of their waist size.

"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. Those wearing the latter were at greater risk for body-image issues and other disorders, she found.

"Regardless of whether 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."

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

"This should raise the awareness level for the coaches as they address their teams and as they teach their own cheerleaders what comments are appropriate. If the students are wearing bare-midriff outfits, they need to even be more attuned to those 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.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - TN