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‘Safe and healthy’

Pilot project in HKR focuses on improving body image in sport


By Sandy Woolfrey-Fahey

Feeling good about our bodies can be tough, but conversation around the issue is building momentum.

Researchers in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation have begun work focusing on this wide-reaching topic, especially how it relates to sport.

“We now understand more about the harm that can happen when a coach comments about an athlete’s weight. These comments put youth at risk of eating disorders,” said Dr. Erin Cameron, a researcher and assistant professor in the school. “Our project focuses on educating coaches to be more aware and sensitive of comments, and encourages them to focus feedback on performance and not weight.”

Dr. Cameron is working with Holly Foley, a graduate student in the Faculty of Medicine, to pilot the program Building Capacity Through BodySense: Exploring the Benefits of a Positive Body Image Intervention for Athletes and Coaches in Newfoundland and Labrador. The program encourages building a foundation for an active, healthy society that discourages eating disorders and harmful behaviours.

Male and female body positivity

BodySense is an evidence-based program that helps build safe and healthy sport environments by fostering positive body image in male and female athletes. The program then evaluates its success as an intervention to reduce risk factors associated with eating disorders in athletes. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and the True Sport Foundation jointly offer BodySense.

The provincial pilot is a collaboration between the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, The Body Image Network, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial University. A Wellness Grant from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Seniors, Wellness and Social Development provided the funding.

Safe environment

“This initial phase includes BodySense sessions with coaches and athletes in Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Ms. Foley. “We will then evaluate their effectiveness in helping create a safe and healthy sport environment in the province. If the sessions prove to be effective, the next step would be to scale up the program and offer it to all coaches and athletes in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Holly Foley will conduct the BodySense sessions for athletes and coaches in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Holly Foley will conduct the BodySense sessions for athletes and coaches in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Photo: Chris Hammond

If scaled up, future work will focus on including the stories of athletes in Newfoundland and Labrador in the workshops, with a possible additional focus on the pressures on male athletes. Historically, males have had less focus in this area, but there is a rise in male eating disorders with a drive to be muscular.

The impetus for the work comes out of the provincial government’s round table on eating disorders that identified sport as a frequent facilitator of eating disorders. The round table discussions brought together community stakeholders and relevant governmental sectors; as a result of these discussions, a number of task forces were struck to address key areas in eating disorders—one of which is sport.

More information about the BodySense project can be found at www.bodysense.ca. Please contact Ms. Foley for more information.

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