A new study published in the journal, JAMA, stated that pediatrics inpatient admissions for young adults and adolescents with eating disorders rose by a rate of about 0.7% a month in the two years before the pandemic in the United States.
In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, that growth increased to 7.2% a month on average.
From the spring of 2020 — when most COVID-19 restrictions/lockdowns were first put in place — through spring 2021, the number of eating disorder inpatient admissions doubled. This number rose to its peak in April 2021.
“We were able to show that at multiple sites throughout the country, there were significant increases in patients with eating disorders after the start of the pandemic — that this wasn’t just a phenomenon in one place,” said the study’s first author, Dr. Sydney Hartman-Munick, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School. “The results are in line with what we were all feeling working day to day in our clinics and in the hospital.”
Individual hospitals had reported a rise in eating disorder cases over the pandemic, but this study was the first to show the impact across the nation, said Dr. Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco. Nagata was not involved in the study.
Researchers tracked data from 14 “geographically diverse” hospital-based adolescent medicine programs and one non-hospital eating disorder treatment program from 2018 through 2021, according to the study. The research showed that the number of people seeking treatment went up, but it cannot say that the pandemic caused the increase or if the severity of cases was worse during the pandemic, Hartman-Munick said.
“Eating disorders have been and continue to be a significant public health concern for adolescents and young adults,” she said. “Eating disorders can be severe, life-long and deadly, and recovery can take years even with timely and appropriate treatment.”
After the first year of the pandemic, the volume of new patients began to decrease in 2021 — but still remained at higher levels than before COVID-19.
“As of the end of the study, they haven’t reached pre-pandemic baseline levels, so we are likely to feel the impact of this increase in volume for quite some time,” Hartman-Munick said.
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