According to researchers in Michigan, eating disorder hospitalisations among adolescents increased during the COVID pandemic – as “their entire worlds were turned upside down overnight”
The isolation of the pandemic harmed many in various ways – though necessary, it left people who were already vulnerable in a difficult place. As the routines of life fell away to stasis, some people struggled with their darker thoughts.
Among them, are teenagers. Especially teenagers who have eating disorders, who are suddenly without access to their friends, support systems and routines.
While remote therapy remains an option for some, for countless others there is no access to medical intervention. Either a person is in denial of their need for help, or they can’t get to the help they need.
Twice as many cases
In the Untied States, a team at the University of Michigan examined local numbers of eating disorder hospital admissions throughout the pandemic. In one hospital, they found that admissions more than doubled during the first 12 months of the pandemic.
The 125 hospitalisations among patients ages 10-23 at Michigan Medicine in those 12 months reflect a significant increase over previous years – in the years 2017 to 2019, it was just 56 hospitalisations per year.
Lead author Alana Otto, an adolescent medicine physician at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, said: “These findings emphasize how profoundly the pandemic has affected young people, who experienced school closures, cancelled extracurricular activities, and social isolation. Their entire worlds were turned upside down overnight.
“For adolescents with eating disorders and those at risk for eating disorders, these significant disruptions may have worsened or triggered symptoms.”
Why did eating disorder hospitalisations increase?
Changes to adolescents’ day-to-day lives during the pandemic, such as school closures and cancellation of organized sports, may also disrupt routines related to eating and exercise, and be an impetus for developing unhealthy eating behaviours among those already at risk.
Dr Otto further explained: “A stressful event may lead to the development of symptoms in a young person at risk for eating disorders.
“During the pandemic, the absence of routine, disruptions in daily activities and a sense of a loss of control are all possible contributing factors. For many adolescents, when everything feels out of control, the one thing they feel they can control is their eating.”