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A pilot study comparing the prevalence of orthorexia nervosa in regular students and those in University sports teams

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Tom Clifford



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Purpose: Orthorexia nervosa (ON) is a pattern of eating characterized by a pathological fixation on restricting foods based on their perceived health. Like many eating disorders, ON is thought to be more prevalent in athletes. This was a preliminary study to explore the prevalence of ON in University students to determine whether those who compete in University sports have higher orthorexic tendencies.Methods: 116 male and female student athletes (age 21?±?1 years) and 99 non-athlete controls (21?±?2) from Universities in the North East of the UK completed the ORTO-15 test (=?40 being the cutoff) used to screen individuals for ON.Results: ON symptoms were high in all students (76%); there was no difference in ORTO-15 scores between the athletes (36.6?±?3.9) and non-athlete controls (37.2?±?3.8; P?=?0.279). There was a difference in scores between those who completed?=?10 h of exercise per week (36.65?±?4.38) and those who do =?10 h a week (37.38?±?3.65) (P?=?0.008; ES?=?0.43). ORTO-15 scores were not higher in athletes competing in aesthetic and weight dependent sports (P?>?0.05).Conclusions: Being a student athlete for a University sports team did not affect ON prevalence; however, there appears to be a greater risk for students in general, and for athletes who undertake high volumes of exercise. Nonetheless, the high prevalence of ON symptoms may be attributed to flaws in the ORTO-15 questionnaire, and therefore, future studies should focus on developing a more valid method for ON diagnosis.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Clifford T, Blyth C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Eating and Weight Disorders

Year: 2019

Volume: 24

Issue: 3

Pages: 473-480

Print publication date: 01/06/2019

Online publication date: 27/09/2018

Acceptance date: 17/09/2018

Date deposited: 01/10/2018

ISSN (print): 1124-4909

ISSN (electronic): 1590-1262

Publisher: Springer International Publishing


DOI: 10.1007/s40519-018-0584-0


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