Campus Recreation in the 21st Century:
January 17, 2012
Addressing Over-Exercise and Eating Disorders
Adrian A. Shepard
Coordinator of Integrated Wellness
Winona State University
The college experience prepares young adults for meaning, purpose, and success by providing the tools necessary for living well-balanced lifestyles. Life-long learning transcends the classroom and extends well into student life and, more specifically, campus recreation. Recreation significantly impacts and influences the lives of college students via the missions set forth by campus recreation departments and woven into the fabric of university life. With an overall shift towards whole person wellness how do we address high-risk behaviors such as over-exercise and eating disorders occurring within the campus recreation setting?
Questions seeking best practices and the identification of universities with established protocols for addressing over-exercise and eating disorders in campus recreation are routinely posed through professional association listservs and at conferences. Though few, campus recreation literature specific to the subject including the role campus recreation professionals can play and suggested strategies has been published in the Recreational Spots Journal (RSJ) in 1989 and 1998.
In December 2009 an Institutional Review Board (IRB) and National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) research clearinghouse approved study was administered to NIRSA members about over-exercise, anorexia, and bulimia. The NIRSA National Center (NNC) identified a sample population that included one professional from each of the NIRSA member institutions with a professional fitness and/or wellness employment position. During a two-week span 128 of 258 people responded for a 50% response rate. In 2011, the results and implications were published by RSJ in an article titled Assessing Over-Exercise, Anorexia, and Bulimia in Campus Recreation.
- 79.4% had been made aware of or personally observed facility users presenting symptoms and/or behaviors associated with over-exercise
- 64.8% indicated they didn’t have guidelines in place
- 47.3% cited lack of knowledge pertaining to subject matter
- 35.4% cited lack of on-campus resources
- 29.1% cited lack of confidence pertaining to the subject matter
- 35.4% stated they had guidelines in place
- 97.7% agreed or strongly agreed guidelines have been helpful
- 95.8% indicated that campus recreation guidelines for over-exercise would help their department better handle such situations
Eating Disorders Findings
- 63.8% had been made aware of or personally observed facility users presenting symptoms and/or behaviors associated with eating disorders
- 96% indicated they didn’t have guidelines in place
- 61.9% cited lack of knowledge pertaining to subject matter
- 47.6% cited lack of confidence pertaining to the subject matter
- 33.3% cited lack of on-campus resources
- 4% indicated they had guidelines in place
- 96.8% agreed or strongly agreed guidelines have been helpful
- 95.6% indicated that campus recreation guidelines for eating disorders would help their department better handle such situations
By nature of their role, campus recreation staffs can serve as partners in the unhealthy behaviors identification, intervention, and education processes. Research and literature point towards the necessity of advancing discussions pertaining to the development of campus recreation guidelines for addressing instances of over-exercise and eating disorders. That said, campus recreation departments can be proactive by identifying and facilitating discussions with collaborative partners on campus and within the community with the goal of establishing department specific protocols based on the resources at hand. As revealed in the NIRSA study, counselors primarily address instances of these unhealthy behaviors. Fortunately, 78% of research respondents indicated reporting to the Student Affairs umbrella, which is the likely home for allies in establishing guidelines addressing over-training and eating disorders.
The following is a list of things to consider when developing and implementing departmental guidelines for identifying and addressing unhealthy behaviors:
- Understand your limitations and know your role as most campus recreation staff aren’t qualified healthcare professionals
- Focus on the observable by becoming familiar with signs and symptoms
- Develop a departmental definition encompassing the behaviors you’re monitoring for
- Identify potential campus and community partners in wellness
- Integrate your efforts with your student behavioral response team, if applicable
- Collaborate via a committee or task force including, but not limited to, legal council, health services, counseling services, insurance carrier, nutritionist, dean of students, and athletics
- Educate and train professional and student employees about these behaviors and how to report them if they suspect something’s wrong; invite healthcare professionals to assist with and/or lead these efforts
- Establish a streamlined and confidential reporting process
- Designate your department’s point person and implement a clear, consistent, and time-efficient chain of communication with your collaborative partners
- Learn about and adhere to confidential record keeping practices
- Evaluate your protocol on a regular basis and modify as necessary
- Create and make available an educational handout about over-exercise and eating disorders
- Keep in mind that you and your co-workers are role models – what you say and how you dress can have a direct impact on those you come in contact with
Campus recreation professionals work in an educational setting fostering creativity and collaboration. Just as importantly, the environment provides for access to qualified personnel that can assist with the process of identifying and addressing instances of over-exercise and eating disorders in campus recreation as part of a behavioral response team. Furthermore, campus recreation professionals are in the position to contribute observation, expertise, and insight towards shaping campus prevention and response efforts. Through collaborative and educational efforts campus recreation professionals have the ability to proactively develop and implement guidelines for identifying and addressing these unhealthy behaviors. By branching out and connecting with qualified personnel on campus and in the community to establish preventive measures addressing over-exercise and eating disorders, campus recreation staffs continue to play an integral and dynamic role in the 21st century campus community by further providing the constituents they serve with the education, skills, and guidance necessary for achieving life-long wellness.
Miller, K., Scheele, K., Horacek, T., Dodge, A., Cox, N. (1998). Eating disorders and over-exercise: how should campus recreation respond? Recreational Sports Journal, 22(4), 8-21.
Minter, D., Glover, R. (1989). Eating disorders: can we help? Recreational Sports Journal, 14(1), 16-19.
Shepard, A., Barnes, A., Click, S., Peden, S. (2011). Assessing over-exercise, anorexia, and bulimia in campus recreation. Recreational Sports Journal, 35(1), 55-60.
The following campus recreation professionals are willing to share their experience and guidelines. Please note that this is not a comprehensive list of institutions with established protocols.
Director of Recreation
Program Director Fitness/Wellness
Director of Physical Education and Recreation
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Coordinator for Nutrition, M.S., R.D., L.M.N.T.
Assistant Director for Fitness
Winona State University
Coordinator of Integrated Wellness
American College Health Association (ACHA)
American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)
American Council on Exercise (ACE)
Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD)
National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)