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Cultural and environmental associations with body image, diet and well-being in NCAA DI female distance runners: a qualitative analysis


Objective We aimed to describe current and former National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division One (DI) female distance runners’ experiences of perceived norms of body image and disordered eating in their sport, as well as the emergence and influence of coach–athlete power dynamics.

This manuscript reports a qualitative research study (consisting of interviews and thematic analysis) of women athletes’ experiences of perceived norms of body image and disordered eating in their sport. We also report athletes’ experiences of coach–athlete power dynamics.

Methods The study sample included 29 current and former female NCAA DI female distance runners, defined as competing in 800-metre distance or greater. Interviews were conducted, audio-recorded and hand transcribed. A thematic analysis was performed and presented.

Results Two major themes emerged: (1) sport body ideals and body image norms and myths that exist in the sport, and (2) the power dynamic between athletes and coaches. It is not clear whether sport body ideals and culture of running influences coaching culture, or whether the coaches—who maintain positions of power in the sport—perpetuate the culture. These themes likely feed into each other and reinforce the existing and dominant mentalities of the sport.

Conclusion Sport body image ideals and the power dynamic between coach and athlete may contribute to female athlete’s risk of disordered eating and body image disturbance. We call for the NCAA and athletic departments to develop and implement prevention and intervention programmes to prevent eating and body image disorders in this high-risk population.

  • eating disorder
  • female athlete triad
  • running
  • women in sport
  • qualitative

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