An interrogation of collegiate student athletes' constructions of health, fitness, and body image


Collegiate student athletes are faced with unique challenges as they are often forced to negotiate between demanding social, athletic, and academic roles. These competing priorities can put student athletes at greater risk for experiencing physical and psychological health problems than their non-athlete peers. Mounting evidence suggests student athletes are prone to negative consequences such as alcohol abuse, depression, disordered eating, hazing, doping, poor academic performance, and committing sexual violence. Although there exists a large body of research examining student athlete experiences as they pertain to these negative health outcomes, no published research has specifically addressed how student athletes define and conceptualize health. This study explores the ways student-athletes construct health, fitness, and body image using in-depth, semi-structured interviews conducted with 20 actively competing collegiate student athletes. We examined the athletes' understanding of these concepts, as well as how their experiences as student athletes contribute to this understanding. Thematic and discursive analyses were applied to the interview materials influenced by key themes identified in existing literature, themes emerging from interviews, and a constructivist lens. The findings from this study have theoretical and practical applications. With regard to theory, this study can inform further inquiry into how populations conceptualize aspects of health, and how this could manifest into adverse behaviours, such as alcohol abuse or disordered eating. With regard to practice, the findings from this study can be used to inform counseling and wellness practices implemented by sport administrators, such as strategies surrounding mental health.

Acknowledgments: SSHRC, McGill University