Are musicians at risk for eating disorders?

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There are several groups that have been known to be at high-risk for eating disorders. Women, athletes, and teens, in particular, are known to face a higher risk than other demographics. But, a new study suggests there may be a group that has gone unrecognized until now: musicians.

According to a new report published in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia, and Obesity, musicians may be more prone to eating disorders than the average person. That includes musicians of all skill level, from students to professionals and retired musicians.

The team of researchers from Imperial College London say they believe the increased risk for musicians “could be due to their increased levels of perfectionism.” However, they weren’t able to definitively identify if that is the case.

For the study, the team asked 301 self-reported musicians to complete a 28 question survey evaluating their physical and mental health, including issues with anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. The musicians came from a wide range of backgrounds and styles, but the majority (85%) were classical musicians. Nearly two-thirds of the participants were female.

Based on the results, the researchers say nearly one-third (32.3%) of the musicians self-reported experiencing an eating disorder in their life. That rate is significantly higher than the estimated rates for eating disorders in the US and the UK. The team says they also found evidence of high rates of depression, stress, and anxiety among the musicians.

The team admits the study is limited because it doesn’t include musicians under 18. Additionally, the high-number of women in the group could skew the results since women are statistically more likely to experience an eating disorder. However, they say the findings are worthy of further exploration.

Lead author Marianna Kapsetaki, PHD researcher in neuroscience at Imperial and a concert pianist, says she believes the mental strains and unpredictable work schedule may lead musicians towards “a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating.” She also said the demand to look or act a certain way as a musician may create stress and unhealthy environments.

Dr. Kapsetaki explains, “these pressures can also lead to anxiety and depression which are risk factors for eating disorders.”

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