Some top young rugby players are suffering from body image issues and poor nutritional choices, an Otago University study has found.
The study involved 26 Super Rugby players answering a 49-item questionnaire at the start of pre-season training.
The questions focused on body image and dietary habits, and the relationship with age.
The study found young players may over-exaggerate the important of body composition, and are more prone to poor dietary practices, which could compromise performance.
Lead author Dr Katherine Black says researchers were "a little surprised'' by the findings.
"Although, on reflection, it makes sense, especially with the effects of social media and comments around body types," she said.
Each player was given a "body image score" based on "drive for thinness", "bulimia" and "body dissatisfaction", with a total above 20 indicating of poor body image.
Dr Black said that, while the overall scores within the group were good, the range was 8-39 (out of a possible 0-100), showing that a few players had issues.
Among disordered eating behaviours reported were binge eating as least once a week (four players), pathogenic weight control use (one) and avoidance of certain foods (20).
Younger players reported more frequently "stuffing themselves with food" as well as higher emotional eating.
Dr Black said among factors that might make them more susceptible to poor dietary choices and body image anxiety was moving from home for the first time.
Others included shorter exposure to the professional sporting environment, and the transition from adolescence to adulthood increasing the risk of body dissatisfaction.
She said a focus on assessing and educating younger players could be needed to reduce disordered eating patterns.