Eating disorders such as anorexia among teens spiked by as much as 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Eating disorders such as anorexia among teens spiked by as much as 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • The number of teens getting inpatient treatment at a time for their eating disorders increased by 300% last year from four to 16
  • Anorexia nervosa, in which a person doesn’t eat, and bulimia, in which a person eats and then throws up, were the most common eating disorders recorded 
  • Many teens developed eating disorders, among other mental health problems, as a result of pandemic-related social isolation  
  • Experts fear that a year of school closures and social isolation may have done a lot of damage to collective mental health of U.S. children 


Eating disorders among U.S. teenagers spiked in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts say.

Requests for treating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia increased by as much as 300 percent at one hospital.

Doctors also note that patients that are coming in for treatment are often in worse condition than a usual patient coming for treatment. 

Increased social isolation caused by social distancing and school closures in the pandemic is believed to have contributed to this spike in cases, researchers told the Wall Street Journal.    

Eating disorders spiked by up to 300 percent last year as teens dealt with social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (File Photo)

Eating disorders spiked by up to 300 percent last year as teens dealt with social isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (File Photo)

‘Patients who come in are just really sick,’ Dr Tracy Richmond, director of the eating-disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told the Journal.

‘We sort of look at it like a second pandemic, the mental-health needs in adolescents, and eating disorders is part of that.’

Richmond recently submitted a study that will published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which looked at the rates of eating disorder patients arriving at her hospital. 

Before the pandemic, the average number of inpatients at any time for eating disorders was around three to four.

This figure rose all the way up to ten on average, and even up to 16 patients at once at some point, meaning an increase of up to 300 percent.

Outpatient cases nearly quadrupled, with the hospital’s average weekly outpatient requests going from six to 23. 

The two most common conditions were anorexia nervosa, in which a person will prevent themselves from eating, and bulimia, in which a person will binge eat and then throw up the food.

School closures resulted in social isolation for many teens, paving the way for these types of disorders.

‘Kids who relied on things like sports and theater to give them a place lost all that,’ Richmond told the Journal. 

The data come as many are looking at the mental health toll the pandemic took upon Americans, and especially children. 

A study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 22 percent of parents with a child aged five to 21 reported their child’s mental health worsening last year. 

While the true toll the pandemic-related school closures took on children’s mental health is yet to be known, some experts fear the past year could have done irreparable damage to a generation of children already likely to suffer from mental health problems.   

Anxiety and depression, especially among teenagers, are often causes of eating disorders.  

‘Everything changed in these kids’ lives,’ said Anne Marie O’Melia, chief medical and clinical officer of the Eating Recovery Center. 

‘Their lives were full of uncertainty, fear and isolation. These are the things that are very difficult in a developing brain.’ 

She also noted to the Journal that eating disorders give these children a point on control in their lives during a time where many things were thrown out of the ordinary.  

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