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Marianne Martinsen defends her PhD on the prevention of eating disorders among young elite athletes


Friday, February 13, PhD-student Marianne Martinsen defended her PhD-thesis "Preventing eating disorders among young male and female elite athletes" at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.


Together with research colleagues, Marianne Martinsen developed an intervention toolbox that has proven to be effective in preventing eating disorders among young elite athletes. The research field has been calling for such tools for many years.


Marianne Martinsen (picture) has dedicated her doctoral work on the prevention of eating disorders among young elite athletes.


This study, which is the first of its kind, reveals that the incidence of eating disorders among young elite athletes is high compared to other youth, nevertheless, these can be prevented.


The study included all 16 elite sports high schools in Norway. As a first step. the research team monitored the prevalence of eating disorders in this group of highly competitive athletes.


In a second step, the research team investigated whether a multifaceted intervention could prevent new cases of eating disorders. The intervention was completed by half of the schools, while the other half served as control schools without implemented measures. The intervention lasted for one year, and researchers followed all participants from 1st through 3rd grade.


- Our intervention has proven to be very effective. In schools where we conducted the prevention program, we could not identify any new case of eating disorders one year after end intervention. However, among the control schools, we diagnosed new cases of eating disorders in 13% of the girls, says Marianne Martinsen.


Program for both coaches and athletes

The intervention program was targeted at both athletes and coaches, but primarily focused on athletes. The research group developed a toolbox consisting of teaching, workshops with practical and theoretical exercises addressing topics such as self-esteem, mental training, growth & development, and nutrition related to health and performance. As examples, low self-esteem, dieting, and fear of weight gain were considered as risk factors for the development of eating disorders.


- Being a young up-coming athlete is a challenging phase in life, a period, which in addition is characterized by growth development and puberty. At the same time, sport is becoming more serious. All these factors will easily make performance and mood vary more often. Many athletes both experience and add a lot of pressure on his/her performance, adds Marianne.


The second part of the intervention toolbox was aimed to reach coaches. The intention was to increase their knowledge about eating disorders, which alerts they should be aware of and how these are early to detect, where coaches can seek help and learn how to use the prevention tools.


- After the intervention, it was encouraging to see that coaches had increased their knowledge about eating disorders and experienced their expertise as improved compared to coaches who did not participate in the intervention. The combination of increased knowledge and confidence in their own skills will be crucial for further prevention work in this field, says Marianne Martinsen.


New questionnaire for screening work

As part of this doctoral work, the research group also developed and validated a questionnaire consisting of 9 questions about perfectionism, body dissatisfaction, and weight regulation habits. The form was tailor-made for high-level sport female athletes to diagnose eating disorders by using clinical interviews.



Professor Jorunn Sundgot-Borgen and Professor Anne-Marte Pensgaard served as supervisors for Marianne.




Read more about Marianne´s projects




Program for February 13 (Place: Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo)

10:15-11:00: Trial lecture «Hvordan lykkes med skolebaserte forebyggende intervensjoner ovenfor ungdom: Fra effektstudier til implementering?»

13:00-15:30: PhD defense



1. opponent: Professor Monica Martinussen, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

2. opponent: Professor Lars Wichstrøm, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway

Head: Professor Yngvar Ommundsen, Norges idrettshøgskole, Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo


Trial lecture and PhD defense will be held in Norwegian and are open for public. WELCOME