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As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc around the world, it leaves a host of lasting consequences in its wake. Among them are a host of mental health issues, including increased depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders. One of the less frequently mentioned problems, however, is that of eating disorders.

A new study published by JAMA Network finds that the number of hospitalizations for eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, among others, has increased dramatically during the pandemic. According to Dr. Kelly Allison, one of the study researchers and director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the results “suggest that eating disorders have become. more serious in extreme restriction disorders, as well as in those with loss of control over their diet. What is even more disturbing is that the average age of patients has decreased over time.

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Eating disorders are mental health disorders characterized by significant and persistent disturbances in eating behaviors, accompanied by distressing emotions. People who suffer from eating disorders often display a concern about body weight and food intake. These disorders can affect people of all ages, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and genders, although they are more common in girls and women. People are particularly vulnerable during adolescence and adolescence and are most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 12 and 35.

There are many reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic has created fertile ground for eating disorders. For many people, eating habits have changed dramatically. Shopping in a grocery store was already incredibly stressful for the general population; for people with disorderly eating behaviors, it was probably worse.

Those who limit their food consumption may have limited their shopping trips or reduced their purchases; for those who force-feed, they may have the added temptation to buy processed foods in bulk. “They were around this food all day then while working or studying at home, so the temptation to eat these foods likely increased during this time,” says Allison.

Obesity is often cited as a risk factor for serious COVID disease and poor outcomes, even among the youngest. This news may have triggered disorderly eating habits in vulnerable people. Being overweight is often a modifiable risk factor and could have been the cause of extreme dieting. “I have been overweight for a long time, hearing that extra pounds could land me on a ventilator in the hospital was enough for me to be able to diet,” says Shaunda F., a 27-year-old mother from the state. from New York. “I lost over 12 pounds in two months when the pandemic started fearing for my life. I basically starved myself.

There are other considerations regarding an increased diagnosis of eating disorders and subsequent hospitalizations. Family members were able to detect pathological behaviors because they were together more often than usual. According to Allison, “The middle school, high school and college kids were at home all day, and their eating behaviors and weight changes were more noticeable. Under normal circumstances, these behaviors may have gone unnoticed but have been more difficult to hide during the pandemic.

Access to care was probably another factor responsible for the increase in hospital admissions for eating disorders. “At the start of the pandemic, access was limited as providers moved to virtual outpatient care,” says Allison. “It could have resulted in a delay which advanced the severity of symptoms to a condition where hospitalization was required. “

It is imperative that parents and loved ones have this issue on their radar screen, as the treatment of eating disorders often requires clinical intervention. Keeping an eye out for warning signs can save lives. “If someone you care about begins to avoid eating with family and friends, while noticing changes in weight (sudden increases or decreases), these should be of concern,” says Allison. Using a bathroom directly after a meal could be a red flag for vomiting or the use of laxatives. Other warning signs include hoarding food, worrying about body weight, food, or calories, wearing loose clothing to hide weight loss, checking in the mirror frequently, skipping meals, etc.

Whatever the reason, the pandemic has led to an increase in eating disorders and, as with COVID-19, a lot depends on everyone doing their part to make sure those at risk are protected.

*[The Wider Lens provides commentary on trending stories in the world of health, covering a wide variety of topics in medicine and health care.]

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.