Sharing My Experience in Advanced Placement Research 

by Sharon H. '22

Have you ever imagined yourself conducting research to reveal and examine a social pattern, a scientific discovery, a political trend, or a local crisis as a high schooler?

I did not until AP Research opened the marvelous world of research to me. In this blog post, I want to share this special learning experience with you.

The Class

As a college-level course, AP Research provides students with the tools and guidance to conduct in-depth, student-selected research studies that cater to each student’s interest and passion.

“No matter what you are interested in, you can make AP Research your own class while learning how to become a real-life researcher,” said Sam Niehl, my AP Research classmate.

Choosing a Research Topic

In the process of narrowing down the research topic, reading tons of previous academic works, drafting hypotheses, planning out research methods, executing the plan and writing conclusions, we learned to make connections between various types of sources and synthesize findings to form a deeper understanding on a topic or discover a novel angle to look at a certain issue.

We can join the conversation of scholars and contribute to academia by researching an important topic that has rarely or never been studied.

Most importantly, we can join the conversation of scholars and contribute to academia by researching an important topic that has rarely or never been studied. I struggled to land on one research topic because there were so many intriguing things I want to explore, so I continued to read academic sources online.

My Project

Before taking AP Research, little did I know that number of males who have become dissatisfied with their bodies increased by three-fold in the past 25 years. Prejudice and stigma are clouding public awareness of eating disorders among males and no adequate assistance programs have been implemented to help males who suffer from abnormal relationships with their bodies and eating habits. As I came to recognize that adolescents with a higher level of body dissatisfaction rate have more unhealthy eating habits, and males in the athletic field usually take on different sports-associated physique expectations, I decided to research the association between athletic involvement, body image issues, and eating disorder risks of male adolescents.

The literature review and methodology sections went quite smoothly with AP Teacher Ms. McNesby’s help and worksheet guidance. But the execution of the method, especially the data collection process, caught me off guard. To obtain a large sample, I planned to convince 20 plus public and private middle and high schools in King County to send my survey out to their male students. One week passed. Two weeks passed. And, by the third weekend, I had only received several rejections on procedural or circumstantial grounds and no responses from the rest of the schools. It seemed like my study was at a dead end.

We can all be changemakers with the right tools and professional guidance.

But you know what people say: “Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all.” I quickly adjusted my research plan. Instead of aiming to analyze the phenomenon in all of King County, I focused on Eastside Catholic School students and got 57 survey responses. By shifting to a school with a high rate of athletic participation (roughly 75% of students participate in one of our 20 sports teams), I was able to find more statistically significant results as the availability of targeted research subjects increased.

My Findings

After retrieving the data, I used Microsoft Excel to organize and tabulate the results. The major findings were:

  1. Male adolescent students who play aesthetic sports such as dance, gymnastics, cheerleading and figure skating show a significant increase in the probability of having severe body image issues and perform symptoms of eating disorders than average students. Even though they have normal body weight, they are frustrated with their appearances and some think they are too fat.
  2. Over 50% of students who participate in aesthetic sports show symptoms of eating disorders, mainly anorexia and bulimia (both restrict food intake and show lower body weight).
  3. Students who play strength sports such as American football, weightlifting and wrestling show greater susceptibility to body image issues and elevated ED risks than average students, though less severe than aesthetic athletes. They share a strong desire to bulk up.
  4. About 90% of strength athletes have consumed dietary products at some point in the past month while more than half of them consume dietary products 50% of the time to gain muscle.
  5. Aesthetic sports and/or strength sports have a greater influence on body image issues and eating disorder risks than weight does.
  6. 15 to 16-year-old male adolescents displayed a sharp increase in concerning eating behaviors and negative body perceptions.

My Recommendations

In light of the findings, I want to share the following recommendations with the EC community:

  1. EC sport team instructors and the health and athletic departments should be more attentive to male athletes’ mental health.
    Instead of using actual physical weight as the primary parameter for detecting body image issues, we should focus on aesthetic sports and strength sports athletes, who are more likely to be more vulnerable to those issues.
  2. EC should consider prioritizing teaching students about dietary supplements and check in with sport team members on their supplement choices regularly to prevent health risks.
    Companies do not need US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before putting dietary products on the market. So, addictive or hazardous ingredients might not be listed on labels, causing unconscious consumption by teens. In other cases, uninformed adolescents can accidentally mix-use supplements or combine them with prescription medications and damage their health.
  3. Teachers and parents and guardians should pay close attention to 15 to 16-year-old male adolescents’ eating habits and opinions on one’s body to ensure early detection of body image issues or ED symptoms.
  4. Male students who think they have an unhealthy relationship with their bodies and/or food should reach out immediately to a trusted adult for advice.
    There is no shame in needing assistance, and there can be long-lasting health consequences if you don’t ask for help as soon as possible.


I have never felt so closely connected to the EC community as I am now. Being able to discover a problem, make recommendations towards a solution and potentially influence others positively in my community through this research study made me feel needed, important and included.

Words cannot describe my overflowing appreciation for the AP Research class, without which I could not have tried to engage in real-world problems or phenomena and make a difference.

As Lauren Barry, another AP Research student, said: “I would recommend the course to any student who wants to prepare for college or just have fun learning about one of their passions.”

We can all be changemakers with the right tools and professional guidance. Without a doubt, AP Research provides both.

For information about AP Research and all AP offerings at Eastside Catholic School, please contact Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mollie Page.


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