The Female Athlete Triad: Who Falls Under the Umbrella?

Emily Curry, BA, and Elizabeth Matzkin, MD

Female athletes were historically stereotyped as weaker, softer, less durable, and more vulnerable compared to male athletes. However, after the passage of Title IX—the federal civil rights law that prohibited sex discrimination in education, including athletics—participation in sports by girls and women skyrocketed from 7 percent in 1972 to 42 percent in 2012. Coaches, athletic trainers, and physicians also began to see an increasing number of women with eating disorders, irregular menstrual cycles, and reduced bone mineral density (BMD).

In 1992, the Task Force on Women’s Issues of the American College of Sports Medicine coined the term “Female Athlete Triad” to describe these interrelated pathologies. The triad was believed to most commonly affect women participating in sports such as gymnastics, ice skating, or endurance running that require the athlete to maintain a specific weight limit or image. However, many athletes remained undiagnosed because specific criteria for triad diagnosis remained elusive.

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