In the last 30 years, females have been engaging in more sports and athletic events than ever before. This is significantly due to the passing of Title IX in 1972, which entitled women to equal participation in sports. Women of all ages have become fitter and more active throughout the last couple of decades, and the advocacy for fitness is great for improving overall health in women. However, within the past 25 years, the female population has been putting its health at risk with a condition known as the “female athlete triad.” This condition is often noted in the younger age groups, but it affects all ages.
Body image is an underlining concern for many girls in this country. Throughout their young lives, media, peers, and even family members have caused girls to pay considerable attention to their body image. Now that athletics have been added into the equation, we see more stress on females to improve their physiology. Girls participating in ballet, gymnastics, crew, and martial arts are victims of female athlete triad. Coaches, teammates, and parents tell these girls to lose a couple more pounds so that they can perform better. In actuality, weight loss beyond a healthy weight, does not improve athletic performance.
The consequences of female athlete triad include eating disorder, amenorrhea (menstrual disturbances), and osteoporosis (bone loss). When a person engages in physical activity, the body needs enough nutrients to sustain the energy demands. Female athletes who are self-conscience of their weight will tend to eat less. The energy imbalance begins to affect not only their physical appearance, but also performance and their health. A lack of sustainable fuel in a female body will cause hormonal changes. One known result of the body’s change is amenorrhea (no period or irregular periods). A lack of valuable nutrients, even though the female is participating in physical activity, can potentially cause the bones to become brittle. This process over time will result in osteoporosis. The common signs and symptoms of the condition include: weight loss, no periods or irregular periods, fatigue and decreased ability to concentrate, stress fractures, and muscle injuries. Those who engage in an eating disorder might not even feel like they are doing it. It is important to identify the signs and then to take a correct approach to improve a woman’s health.
If you know of someone who has female athlete triad or feel that you might be heading in that direction yourself, take some time to evaluate the situation and then the steps to improve the condition. Know that the disorder doesn’t just strike young girls. Adults and even non-elite athletes can fall into the triad. If you are physically active or engage in daily exercise, you may be a victim of this disorder. Talking to your physician or internist is the first step to providing the body with the right intervention. The Female Athlete Triad Coalition (www.femaleathletetriad.org) and kidshealth.org provide additional information on the treatment and prevention of female athlete triad.
L DiPietro and N S Stachenfeld. (2006). The myth of the female athlete triad. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 40(6): 490-493
Female Athlete Triad from http://kidshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/sports/triad.html#
Female Athlete Triad Coalition from www.femaleathletetriad.org