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Study reveals prevalence of dangerous horse jockey weight loss methods


Despite receiving expert advice on nutrition and weight management strategies, UK horse jockeys continue to use rapid, and often dangerous, weight loss methods.

This is one of the findings recently revealed in a research study that will be presented at the forthcoming British Dietetic Association Research Symposia for Dietitians New to Research in London tomorrow (Wednesday 29 February).

Carried out by Nóra Ní Fhlannagáin as part of her nutrition and dietetics undergraduate project at Robert Gordon University (RGU), the study titled ‘Involvement of nutrition experts with UK jockeys’ weight management’ will be presented in scientific poster form at the symposium which will be held in De Morgan House, London.

Data for the study was collected using a questionnaire-based telephone interview with a selection of professional and amateur jockeys registered on the Directory of the Turf - the leading guide to the international thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

The questionnaire, which was completed by 99 professional, amateur and apprentice jockeys whose contact details were on the Directory, revealed that almost 82 percent of participants utilised rapid weight loss methods (RWLMs) such as missing one to two meals a day, limiting fluid intake, exercising whilst wearing a sweat suit or vomiting after meals.

Further to this, it was found that jockeys who reported receiving weight loss advice from a nutrition expert (54 participants) were 9 percent more likely to use RWLMs than those who had not received advice and that 91 percent of professional jockeys used RWLMs compared to 73 percent of amateurs.

Interestingly, the study also showed that jockeys who had a long-term weight management strategy in place had a larger percentage weight change between the off-season and the on-season, with an average of 4.6kg loss, compared to those who did not have a strategy in place, who had an average of 2.5kg loss.

“This study reveals the prevalence of dangerous weight loss methods utilised by horse jockeys, despite the advice of nutrition experts,” explains Nóra (23) who comes from Craughwell, Co. Galway. “This may indicate that jockeys are not being advised of, or fully understanding, the negative health and performance effects of rapid weight loss.

“However, it may also indicate that there is resistance to dietitians and sports nutritionists in horse racing as jockeys feel that their advice is unrealistic, difficult to follow or unlikely to bring them down to riding weight. In either case, it seems that further development of nutritional intervention is necessary to make healthy weight loss an effective option for both professional and amateur jockeys.”

Susan Lennie, lecturer in nutrition and dietetics at RGU supervised Nora throughout her research project. She added: “Dietitians and nutritionists play a key role in maximising performance whilst maintaining health in sports men and women. This study tells us that we must work harder to provide effective nutritional advice to those in weight-restricted sports where risks to health are high.”

Speaking of presenting her work at the forthcoming BDA symposium, Nóra, who is currently undertaking an MSc in Applied Sports and Exercise Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University, concluded: “I really enjoyed doing my research project. The generosity of the jockeying community in giving their time to undertake the telephone interview, and the support of the nutrition and dietetic staff at RGU, have enabled me to develop my research skills, and it’s very exciting to have the opportunity to share my results with others at the symposium.”

Notes to editor

Nóra Ní Fhlannagáin and Susan Lennie are available for interview on request from the RGU Communications Office. Please contact Andrew Youngson on 01224 262389 or a.c.youngson@rgu.ac.uk.

Horse racing and jockey nutrition facts

  • In horseracing, failure to reach weight regulations excludes the jockey from competing.
  • The registered dietitian, sports nutritionist or sport scientist can help athletes attain a consistently low body weight thus avoiding the use of rapid weight loss methods (RWLMs). British Horseracing Association dietitians are available to all professional UK jockeys.

Andrew Youngson
Communications Officer | Faculty of Health and Social Care
Robert Gordon University
Schoolhill
Aberdeen
AB10 1FR
Tel: 01224 262389
Email: a.c.youngson@rgu.ac.uk