Research in sports-science disciplines such as sport psychology has demonstrated that practitioners’ physical characteristics influence clients’ perceptions of their effectiveness, potentially mediating the efficacy of subsequent interventions. However, very little research has been directed toward this issue for sports dietitians (SDs), the health professionals whom athletes are likely to engage to assist with manipulation of traits of physique. Therefore, the purpose of this investigation was to determine whether SDs’ phenotype, specifically body-mass index (BMI), and type of dress influence potential clients’ preference to consult them for dietetic support and if this affects their perceived effectiveness.
One hundred volunteers (mean age 18.7 ± 0 .8 years) all participating in regular competitive sport, classified by gender (male, n = 55, or female, n = 45) and competitive standard (elite/subelite, n = 68, or club/recreational, n = 32) viewed slides representing four concurrently presented computer-generated images of the same female SD manipulated to represent different BMIs and dress types. Participants were asked to rank the SDs in order of their preference to work with them and, second, to rate their perceived effectiveness of each of the SDs.
Key findings included the observation of a significant BMI main effect F(6, 91) = 387.39, p < .001 (effect size .96), with participants’ ranking of preference and rating of perceived effectiveness of female SDs decreasing with increasing BMI.
SDs should consider their physical appearance when meeting with athletes, as this may affect their perceived efficacy.