New research findings: more than one in three circus artists engages in disordered eating

Eating behaviour can be described on a continuum ranging from optimum nutrition for circus artists’ mental and physical health, to disordered eating, and eating disorders (Wells et al., 2020). Disordered eating describes situations in which a person engages in unhealthy eating behaviours such as skipping meals, compulsive eating, or restrictive eating but the person does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis with an eating disorder. Both disordered eating and eating disorders can harm a person’s mental and physical health (Mountjoy et al., 2018). The risk and intensity of this negative impact is greater for eating disorders compared to disordered eating. 

In our research, we investigated the prevalence of disordered eating among circus artists. We found that more than 1 in 3 circus artists (36%) reported engaging in disordered eating behaviour. This percentage is similar to disordered eating behaviour in athletes in aesthetic sports such as gymnastics and figure skating and is higher than the prevalence of disordered eating among the general population. We found that several factors predict the likelihood that circus artists engage in disordered eating.  Importantly, the main circus discipline of the artist predicted their likelihood that they engage in disordered eating. Equilibrium artists and aerial acrobats were more likely to report engaging in disordered eating compared to others. Younger circus artists were more likely to engage in disordered eating compared to older circus artists, but gender was not related to the likelihood that a circus artist engages in disordered eating. Circus artists with higher levels of psychological resilience were less likely to engage in disordered eating. 

Disordered eating is thus common among circus artists, which means that it is important to develop strategies that help prevent, detect, and treat disordered eating in the circus setting. This includes embedding qualified professionals such as nutritionists, psychologists, and counsellors in the circus setting to equip artists with relevant knowledge and mental skills, as well as critically assessing the impact of the circus environment and culture on artists’ body satisfaction.  

Read the full publication our research article here:  

van Rens, F. E., Metse, A. P., & Heritage, B. (2022). Exploring the mental health of circus artists: Circus factors, psychological resilience, and demographics predict disordered eating and exercise addictions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise59, 102107. Link to full-text.


Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Burke, L., Ackerman, K. E., Blauwet, C., Constantini, N., … & Budgett, R. (2018). International Olympic Committee (IOC) consensus statement on relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S): 2018 update. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28, 316-331. 

Wells, K. R., Jeacocke, N. A., Appaneal, R., Smith, H. D., Vlahovich, N., Burke, L. M., & Hughes, D. (2020). The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) position statement on disordered eating in high performance sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54, 1247-1258.