Body mass index, body image dissatisfaction, and eating disorder symptoms in female aquatic sports: Comparison between artistic swimmers and female water polo players

Jasmina Parlov*, Ajana Low, Mario Lovric, Roman Kern

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous studies have suggested that artistic (synchronized) swimming athletes might showeating disorders symptoms. However, systematic research on eating disorders in artistic swimming is limited and the nature and antecedents of the development of eating disorders in this specific population of athletes is still scarce. Hence, the aim of our research was to investigate the eating disorder symptoms in artistic swimming athletes using the EAT-26 instrument, and to examine the relation of the incidence and severity of these symptoms to body mass index and body image dissatisfaction. Furthermore, we wanted to compare artistic swimmers with athletes of a non-leanness (but also an aquatic) sport, therefore we also included a group of female water-polo athletes of the same age. The sample consisted of 36 artistic swimmers and 34 female waterpolo players (both aged 13-16). To test the presence of the eating disorder symptoms the EAT-26 was used. The Mann-Whitney U Test (MWU) was used to test for the differences in EAT-26 scores. The EAT-26 total score and the Dieting subscale (one of the three subscale) showed significant differences between the two groups. The median value for EAT-26 total score was higher in the artistic swimmers’ group (C = 11) than in the waterpolo players’ group (C = 8). A decision tree classifier was used to discriminate the artistic swimmers and female water polo players based on the features from the EAT26 and calculated features. The most discriminative features were the BMI, the dieting subscale and the habit of post-meal vomiting.Our results suggest that artistic swimmers, at their typical competing age, show higher risk of developing eating disorders than female waterpoloplayers and that they are also prone to dieting weight-control behaviors to achieve a desired weight. Furthermore, results indicate that purgative behaviors, such as binge eating or self-induced vomiting, might not be a common weight-control behavior among these athletes. The results corroborate the findings that sport environment in leanness sports might contribute to the development of eating disorders. The results are also in line with evidence that leanness sports athletes are more at risk for developing restrictive than purgative eating behaviors, as the latter usually do not contribute to body weight reduction. As sport environment factors in artistic swimming include judging criteria that emphasize a specific body shape and performance, it is important to raise the awareness of mental health risks that such environment might encourage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number290
Pages (from-to)2159-2166
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Physical Education and Sport
Issue number3, Suppl.
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


  • Decision tree
  • Dieting behavior
  • Eat 26
  • Leanness sport
  • Machine learning
  • Sport environment
  • Synchronized swimming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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