College athletes are seen as the picture of health. But the focus, discipline and competitive spirit that makes a successful student-athlete can also fuel a serious health condition with lifelong impacts.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, student-athletes are among those most likely to develop bone fractures and organ failures associated with eating disorders. But as the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit learned, it’s a mental health condition that receives little attention, and in some cases, goes ignored by coaches and administrators at major universities.
To see how deep the problem runs in California, the Investigative Unit asked all public Division I and Division II programs (where athletes receive NCAA scholarships) how many student athletes they’ve treated for eating disorders in the last five years.
The 28 schools educate nearly 10,000 student athletes each year, but none of the universities had any idea how many student-athletes they’ve treated. Some schools said they don’t track that information, while others said they didn’t refer any students for treatment.