The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in the number of patients requiring treatment for eating disorders, a new study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, found that the rate of people receiving hospital treatment doubled last year.
Before the pandemic, about 0.3 in 100,000 Americans required hospital treatment for eating disorders.
That figure rose to 0.6 months after the virus shut down much of the world early last year.
Individual eating disorders all felt the increasing trend, with anorexia and bulimia nervosa both having similar increases.
The results provide evidence in another indirect way in which the Covid pandemic has harmed the general health of Americans.
A few months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of eating disorders in hospital patients doubled, the researchers found. Cases peaked in July 2020, with 0.8 in 100,000 Americans requiring hospital care for an eating disorder
The cases of eating disorders (light blue) requiring hospital care have increased much more than other similar conditions such as mental health disorders (orange), alcohol-related disorders (dark blue) or disorders opioid-related (green)
The research team, which published its results Tuesday morning in the JAMA Network Open, gathered medical data nationwide to find rates of inpatient and outpatient visits for eating disorders.
A hospital visit is considered a person whose condition requires them to stay in the hospital for at least one day.
Outpatient visits are categorized as visits to the doctor where a person leaves at the end of their appointment and does not require treatment that would keep them going through the night.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States in March, it took a few months for the rate of eating disorders to rise.
January 2020 was also a month with an unusually high number of eating disorder cases in hospital patients, with researchers finding 0.4 per 100,000 of the population.
When the pandemic began, the numbers were dropping, but quickly turned the tide.
By June, the rate of hospital patients with eating disorders had doubled from 0.3 to 0.6 per 100,000 Americans.
The increase in treatment for eating disorders could be attributed to the disruptions the pandemic has caused to daily life, and even to some students returning home, and their parents realizing that their child has an illness that otherwise , would not be processed (file image)
In July, eating disorders requiring hospital treatment peaked at 0.8 per 100,000 people.
While cases declined steadily for the rest of the year, in December there were still more than 0.5 cases per 100,000 Americans, a large increase from the figure of 0.3 before the pandemic.
The researchers found that this spike in eating disorder hospital visits is a much larger increase than what was seen for other similar conditions during the pandemic.
At its peak, the rate of inpatients with eating disorders was about 175% higher than pre-pandemic figures.
Cases of alcoholism peaked at a 50 percent increase, and visits to hospital patients for opioids or depression and anxiety remained stable.
Researchers cite several reasons for this increase in hospital visits for eating disorders.
The general stress and disruption of daily life caused by Covid may have caused many people to adopt unhealthy eating habits.
People can also become overfed or under-fed and over-exercised due to the food storage that occurred at the start of the pandemic.
Another interesting factor could be the return home of many young people after their colleges have closed.
“Closing schools and colleges may have helped families identify unhealthy eating or recognize its effects,” the researchers wrote.
A similar increase was not found for cases of ambulatory eating disorders, and researchers believe this is because many waited until their condition became more severe to see a doctor during the pandemic.
“Outpatient care may have been delayed until symptoms require hospitalization,” the team added.