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Prevalence of Exercise Addiction Symptomology and Disordered Eating in Australian Students Studying Nutrition and Dietetics



      Previous research has reported the existence of disordered eating in students studying nutrition and dietetics. However, the occurrence of exercise addiction, previously linked to disordered eating, is poorly understood in this group.


      The main objective of this study was to explore the prevalence of self-reported symptoms of exercise addiction and the association with disordered eating in a sample of students studying nutrition and dietetics. A secondary objective was to compare the prevalence of exercise addiction to students enrolled in another health-related degree.


      We conducted a cross-sectional study in 165 undergraduate students.


      Participants were students of both sexes enrolled in nutrition and dietetics and occupational therapy degree programs at an Australian university in August 2013.

      Main outcome measures

      Participants completed four validated questionnaires for assessment of exercise- and eating-related attitudes and behaviors measuring scores for exercise addiction, weekly volume of physical activity (PA), eating disorder symptoms, and cognitive restraint. Stretch stature and body mass were measured and body composition was assessed using dual energy x-ray absorptiometry.

      Statistical analyses performed

      Independent t test, Mann-Whitney U test, and χ2 test were completed to compare groups of students based on sex, degree, or eating attitudes. Spearman’s correlation was performed to explore associations between continuous variables (exercise addiction scores, PA volume, and scores for eating attitudes and cognitive restraint).


      Approximately 23% of nutrition and dietetics students were found to be at risk of exercise addiction (20% females and 35% males; P=0.205), while the majority demonstrated some symptoms of exercise addiction. A similar proportion of at risk individuals was found in the female occupational therapy group (19%; P=1.000). In females (nutrition and dietetics and occupational therapy combined), the exercise addiction scores were associated with three other outcome measures: PA volume (rs=0.41; P<0.001), eating attitudes scores (rs=0.24; P=0.008), and cognitive restraint (rs=0.32; P<0.001). Comparative analysis indicated that female students with high cognitive restraint had greater exercise addiction scores than those with low cognitive restraint (20.3 [4.8] compared to 17.8 [4.2]; P=0.003).


      Results suggest high prevalence of exercise addiction in this sample of undergraduate health-related degree students and its link to amount of PA and disordered eating in females. Future research should include larger samples of both sexes to build the existing understanding on these maladaptive behaviors.


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      T. Rocks is an accredited practising dietitian, PhD candidate, and associate lecturer, nutrition and dietetics, School of Health and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.


      F. Pelly is an accredited practising dietitian, and discipline leader/associate professor, Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.


      G. Slater is an accredited practising dietitian and associate professor, Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.


      L. A. Martin is a lecturer, Sport Psychology, School of Health and Sport Sciences, Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.