How The Pandemic Is Fueling Eating Disorders In Young People

“I just needed more control” Anne, a college student from Massachusetts, took a deep breath as she recounted her experiences with disordered eating during the pandemic. Anne had been aware of her struggles with food for much of her life, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that she started to feel completely out of control, “… I was acutely aware that I wasn’t moving (exercising) as much… I needed to compensate.” While she has since been able to receive treatment for her eating disorder, Anne’s case represents a surge of young people who have struggled with new or relapsed eating disorders since the beginning of the pandemic. Many of these young people are still struggling without access to treatment.

During the first 12 months of Covid-19, the  among adolescents with eating disorders at the University of Michigan Medical School has more than doubled. According to an  of medical record data from 80 hospitals, there has been a 25% increase in the number of adolescent eating disorder patients since March 2020. Over the course of the pandemic, the National Eating Disorder Association helpline has reported a huge  in call volume.

Isolation, lack of structure, and heightened anxiety are three  for the increase in eating disorders. While the majority of the population faced all three as the world entered lockdown, Anne describes the unique pressures that young adults and adolescents faced on social media, “there was a general discourse on social media about not gaining weight during Covid or focusing on getting fit during Covid. So many people were equating self-improvement with weight loss or changing eating habits and it really affected me.”

Dr. Jillian Lampert, the Chief Strategy Officer at a treatment center called the , is unsurprised by the impact of social media on young people, “given the isolation that Covid brought, all of the messages on social media platforms were one of the main interactions that people had with the world… we’ve seen a huge influx in the need for care.”

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Originally published on Forbes on August 27, 2021

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.