University of Utah Health Sciences Center NEWS


Young women who suffer from Female Athlete Triad (FAT) exhibit not only physical symptoms common among post-menopausal women, but also similar psychocognitive problems, according to a study by a University of Utah College of Health researcher.

Merav Nagel, Ph.D., a post-doctoral researcher with the college's Department of Health Promotion and Education, said many young women tend to ignore the physical manifestations of FAT- disordered or unhealthy eating, absence of or irregular menstruation, and low bone density, which are similar problems experienced by post-menopausal women.

But Nagel's study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Exercise Science and Fitness, shows they should be more concerned about the irreversible impact of FAT on their psychocognitive functions, such as their emotional IQ, self-esteem, concentration, anxiety level, and short-term memory.

"There is a misconception, especially among gymnasts, figure skaters, and ballet dancers, that the leaner the body, the better the performance," said Nagel. "My study shows the opposite - performance declines when you go beyond your body's set point and body fat percentage."

Thirty women, ages 20-30, participated in the study, which used physical testing and questionnaires to identify those who suffer from FAT. Participants were from college-level schools in Tennessee and Idaho, and were involved in track, cross country, volleyball, and dance. Fifteen athletes with the triad suffered from similar problems that older post-menopausal women experience, such as mood fluctuations, depression, guilt, anxiety, and helplessness.

Previous studies have examined the symptoms and irreversible risks of FAT, but Nagel said her research expanded on the similarities between FAT and post-menopausal women by exploring psychocognitive functions.

Nagel said she hopes her study will raise awareness about the dangers of triad, especially among people working with women athletes, who are in a position to refer players to treatment. The research recommends a closer look at athletic programs to make sure they promote good health among players.