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Key points to remember

  • New research reveals a possible link between vaping and eating disorders in college students.
  • People with eating disorders also often suffer from other mental disorders, such as drug addiction.
  • Learning more about the link between vaping and eating disorders can help clinicians better screen people and improve early intervention.

Students who vape and smoke e-cigarettes have a higher risk of developing an eating disorder, new study finds.

These new findings match previous research that shows that people with eating disorders are likely to have other mental disorders, such as substance abuse. But knowing more about the link between vaping and eating disorders could help clinicians better screen young people and improve targeting for early intervention.

A 2011 study found that eating disorders increased on college campuses, from 7.9% to 25% for men and from 23.4% to 32.6% for women, over a period of time. 13 years old.

Additionally, this link could eventually become more prevalent as the pandemic exacerbates both nicotine use and eating disorders. The September study was published in the journal Eating behaviors.

“If we tackle the collective causes of eating disorders, like weight stigma and everything in between, we would likely see a decrease in vaping,” Kyle T. Gansom, PhD, MSW, senior author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. , says Verywell. “And I think vice versa, if we could cut down on vaping, we could probably see a decrease in eating disorders and other mental health issues. We can tackle the issues from both sides.

Vaping and eating disorders are linked

For this study, researchers at the University of Toronto looked at information on more than 51,000 students in the United States who self-reported data about themselves in a large, long-term study. term.

In assessing participants’ responses, the scientists noted that there were associations between self-reported vaping and the diagnosis of an eating disorder.

“What we found was that those who vaped in the past 30 days were more likely to have a lifetime eating disorder diagnosis,” Ganson explains. Nineteen percent of participants said they had used a vaping or electronic cigarette in the past 30 days.

Among those who vaped, the prevalence of an eating disorder diagnosis was 5.8% and the elevated risk of an eating disorder was 29.6%. These numbers were higher than those who had not vaped.

The risk of eating disorders remained higher for people who vaped, even when the researchers took into account all other risk factors for eating disorders, such as biological and psychological factors.

In general, among those who reported using vaping or e-cigarettes, nicotine vaping was most commonly used recently among participants with and without eating disorder symptoms.

“The reason is probably multifaceted,” says Ganson. “We certainly know that people with eating disorders are more likely to smoke cigarettes and more likely to use substances, in general. The use of these substances, especially like vaping nicotine, can certainly affect eating disorders by having appetite suppressant and metabolic effects… which could help people lose weight.

There is probably an emotional regulation component as well. “I think people who have eating disorders have issues with emotional regulation, and I think if you use substances like these, that’s another way to deal with your emotions,” Ganson says.

What this means for you

If you have an eating disorder, you can call or text the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at (800) 931-2237 for help finding resources and treatment. You can also use their online chat feature here.

Clinicians should screen for both

These findings are particularly important in light of the upsurge in eating and substance use disorders during the pandemic.

“It’s not surprising to see higher rates of eating disorders in a cohort of vapers or e-cigarette users or vice versa,” said Harry Brandt, regional medical director of the Eating Recovery Center, who was not involved in the study. Very well. “In general, eating disorders have high rates of co-morbidity, including depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. ”

This association between vaping and eating disorders merits further study, according to Brandt.

The researchers are also calling for broader national regulations on what young adults can and cannot buy freely, in order to fully protect the health and well-being of young people.

Prevention efforts should be directed at high-risk populations, according to Ganson. College health professionals really need to be aware of this correlation and start screening for eating disorders and other mental health issues in students who use substances, the researchers say.

“Among students who use substances, clinicians should also look for symptoms of eating disorders or other mental health issues,” Ganson said. “Because there is likely to be an overlap. ”