- How might policy makers work to reduce the risks associated with weight management behaviour (WMB) in weight-categorised sports?
- How do the physiological consequences of weight management techniques influence athletes’ willingness to engage in potentially dangerous WMB?
- How do social and psychological factors predict potentially risky WMB?
Background and rationale for the study
In current UK social policy, the promotion of sport participation with a view to enhancing public health features as a core objective of both the DCMS and DfE; most notably in the current cross-government strategy, Sporting Future (DCMS, 2015). However, the prevalence of dangerous WMB among athletes, evident at multiple levels of participation in (particularly) weight-categorised sports, undermines this key social good.
Such behaviours have a specific prevalence within combat sports, which continue to draw large numbers of young participants from marginalised and disadvantaged social backgrounds. As such, formulating effective safeguarding policies to regulate such sports takes on added importance due to the vulnerability of many of their participants. In recent biomedical research into combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts, numerous dangers associated with widespread practices of rapid weight loss/gain have been identified (e.g., Crighton et al. 2015; Jetton et al. 2013).
The alarming findings of such studies are compounded by anecdotal evidence of athletes being hospitalised, and in some cases, dying, as a result of dangerous ‘weight-cutting’ techniques. Despite this, weight-cutting persists as a normalised aspect of WMB. This study will therefore adopt an interdisciplinary approach to studying this phenomenon, accounting for physiological, psychological and social factors underpinning athletes’ WMB, towards the development of policy recommendations aimed at promoting welfare and safety in weight-categorised sports.
This studentship will combine insights from social science (social policy, psychology) and biomedical science (exercise physiology) in order to understand athletes’ weight management behaviours. Grasping the intersecting pressures facing athletes deciding if – and how – to engage in rapid, potentially dangerous short-term weight loss/gain requires a rigorous understanding of the social environment within which such decision-making takes place, but also of the physiological processes that they might seek to manipulate, as well as the acute and chronic effects this might have on health related measures. As such, the formulation of effective policy to regulate this practice – which is the ultimate goal of the project – necessitates engaging with various forms of knowledge to understand the motivation of the people targeted by said policy. The study therefore sits across the remits of ESRC and MRC (MRC highlight area “mechanistic research in nutrition”).
Critical thinking, problem solving, and methodological expertise in mixed-methods research design; sound knowledge of physiological, psychological and social aspects of competitive sport; qualitative and quantitative data analysis techniques; an understanding of social science and health research ethics.