Anorexia and bulimia are more commonly associated with models in the fashion industry, but, as one of horseracing's biggest events – the Cheltenham Festival – begins, a study suggests that jockeys are also prone to eating-disorder and weight-loss problems.
The study, to be published in the Journal of Sports Sciences next month, claims that jockeys hoping to be selected for big races are resorting to extreme methods to keep their weight down. As a consequence, it says, they are at risk of developing eating disorders or becoming depressed as a result of their efforts to stay slim.
The study, by researchers at Brunel University, looked at the psychological effects on 41 professional jockeys aged between 19 and 54. The riders were rated on their mood, using an established scoring system, when they were at their minimum, optimum and relaxed weights.
The results showed that jockeys were more likely to feel depressed and suffer anxiety about food when they were trying to get to a minimum weight for races. When they were at their optimal or relaxed weights they were more likely to report a good mood, less anxiety, confusion and anger. Six of the jockeys were also deemed to be "at risk" of eating disorders.
The report goes on to describe how all jockeys embark on extreme programmes to get their weight down, known as "wasting". It added: "This might involve a combination of starvation, deliberate dehydration, excessive sauna use, and even self-induced vomiting, known colloquially as flipping."
Dr Costas Karageorghis, who led the research alongside Michael Caulfield, a former chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), said flipping was well known in the jockey community. "The six jockeys identified as being particularly at risk were actively flipping, which is analogous to what bulimics do," he said. "Some jockeys sit in saunas for up to three hours, or have very hot baths for two hours. Other methods involve going on very punishing runs before breakfast and getting by on cups of tea with sugar, oranges and Jaffa Cakes, which are relatively low calorie. All jockeys engage in some of these behaviours, but some do so more than others."
In a typical flat race, rider and saddle together must weigh as little as 110lb (50kg), while the maximum weight allowed is 140lb. The average weight of a British man is 190lb. The study does acknowledge, however, that jockeys are about 20cm shorter than the average British male.
Josh Apiafi, chief executive of the PJA, rejected the claims and said the data used by the researchers was at least five years old. "Jockeys, like boxers, will use saunas to lose weight ahead of a weigh-in, but to suggest they sit there for three hours is rubbish," he said. "As for flipping, in the olden days that may well have happened, but nowadays it is very rare. We don't believe there is any kind of eating disorder in horseracing."Reuse content