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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 00:38 GMT
Anorexia linked to child dancers
Dancer
A sign of problems ahead?
Children who dance are more at risk of having eating disorders like anorexia when they grow up, research has found.

It is believed to be the first time a link has been found with dancing for pleasure as a child and such problems.

The researchers said the study suggests "participation in dance as a young girl has a long term effect on a woman's eating behaviour".

The study, by the University of Minnesota, is published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.

Once youngsters become aware of how they look it can become quite a consuming interest.
Steve Bloomfield
Previous studies have found eating disorders are more common in professional ballet dancers, as well as elite athletes.

Eating disorders are a serious problem in the UK. It is estimated that at least 165,000 people, mostly women, are affected and that one in 10 will die as a result of their condition.

Both anorexia, which involves starving the body of food and bulimia, a cycle of starving and bingeing, are closely linked to mental illness. They now account for more deaths among psychiatric patients than anything else.

Media images of super thin models and pop stars are thought to be a major influence on youngsters' eating habits.

Obsessed by appearance

The desire for a perfect body can mean some lose control of their eating habits and become preoccupied with their appearance.

To see if there was any connection between childhood dance and adult eating, researchers recruited 546 women aged from 17 to 55.

Each one was quizzed on whether they had danced in childhood. They also completed special questionnaires designed to measure disordered eating behaviours, body image and signs of depression.

Just under two-thirds of the women said they had danced when they were children.

The results showed dancers displayed more bulimic behaviour, were more worried about their weight and had greater desire for perfect looks.

"Although there were no significant differences between dancers and non-dancers on current body mass index, results showed dancers had a smaller ideal, or preferred, body mass," the researchers said.

'Considerable pressure'

Steve Bloomfield, spokesman for the Eating Disorders Association, said it was aware that children in certain areas of dance, particularly ballet, are put under considerable pressure to be thin and have the perfect figure.

Last year, the association produced a booklet called "Your Body Your Risk", aimed specifically at educating young dancers on the risk of developing eating disorders.

"What some people consider to be the perfect weight for a ballet dancer is right on the edge of the danger zone for being anorexic," said Mr Bloomfield.

"Once youngsters become aware of how they look it can become quite a consuming interest."




SEE ALSO:
Dancing 'wards off dementia'
20 Jun 03 |  Health
Eating disorders
20 Dec 00 |  Medical notes


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