To implement and to assess the efficacy of a school-based, sport team–centered program to prevent young female high school athletes’ disordered eating and body-shaping drug use.
Design and Setting
Prospective controlled trial in 18 high schools, with balanced random assignment by school to the intervention and usual-care control conditions.
We enrolled 928 students from 40 participating sport teams. Mean age was 15.4 years, 92.2% were white, and follow-up retention was 72%.
The ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternative) curriculum’s 8 weekly 45-minute sessions were incorporated into a team’s usual practice activities. Content was gender-specific, peer-led, and explicitly scripted. Topics included healthy sport nutrition, effective exercise training, drug use and other unhealthy behaviors’ effects on sport performance, media images of females, and depression prevention.
Main Outcome Measures
We assessed participants by confidential questionnaire prior to and following their sport season. We determined program effects using an analysis of covariance–based approach within the Generalized Estimating Equation framework.
Experimental athletes reported significantly less ongoing and new use of diet pills and less new use of athletic-enhancing substances (amphetamines, anabolic steroids, and sport supplements) (P<.05 for each). Other health-harming actions also were reduced (less riding with an alcohol-consuming driver [P = .05], more seat belt use [P<.05], and less new sexual activity [P<.05]). The ATHENA athletes had coincident positive changes in strength-training self-efficacy (P<.005) and healthy eating behaviors (P<.001). Reductions occurred in intentions toward future use of diet pills (P<.05), vomiting to lose weight (P<.05), and use of tobacco (P<.05) and muscle-building supplements (P<.005). The program’s curriculum components were altered appropriately (controlling mood [P<.005], refusal skills [P = .05], belief in the media [P<.005], and perceptions of closest friends’ body-shaping drug use [P<.001]).
Sport teams are effective natural vehicles for gender-specific, peer-led curricula to promote healthy lifestyles and to deter disordered eating, athletic-enhancing substance use, and other health-harming behaviors.