The number of people who were hospitalized for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia doubled in May 2020. About two months after the pandemic in COVID-19 a national emergency will be officially declared.

Why was there such an increase in eating disorders during that time?

The new study did not look at why there was such an increase in eating disorders during that time. But it tracks for many reasons, said study author Kelly Allison. She is the director of the Center for Eating and Weight Disorders and a professor of psychiatry at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.

“People were at home with their families all day. So it’s possible that disorderly eating behaviors and extreme weight loss were more easily recognized during this time, ”Allison said.

Also, people who were prone to food shopping anxiety and who had disorders involving food restriction. They may have avoided the supermarket entirely and restricted their food intake more significantly as a result, he explained.

They had trouble staying home all day around large amounts of food

“People who were prone to binge-eating, such as those with bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. They probably had trouble staying home all day around large amounts of food, particularly during such a stressful time, ”Allison noted.

Taking into account the lack of routine, isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic. In addition to a growing reliance on social media, it’s a perfect storm, he said.

“People were still on social media, and there was a lot of talk about weight gain during the pandemic. Which probably also played a role in restricting unhealthy foods or the binge-purge cycle that people with bulimia experience, ”Allison said.

For the study, the researchers reviewed the insurance claim data of more than 3.2 million people (median age: 38). This, to find out if eating disorders or other behavioral health conditions increased from January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2020. COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency in February 2020.

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During that time, hospitalizations for eating disorders increased.

During that time, hospitalizations for eating disorders increased, as did the number of days people spent in hospital for treatment during 2020, the study found.

The number of people seeking outpatient care for eating disorders also increased during this time period compared to those seeking help for depression, anxiety, alcohol use, and / or opioid use.

Only time will tell if these numbers will decrease as things return to normal, Allison said.

“I suspect that as life normalizes and people resume more normal hours, they will have more structure and less severe eating disorders will improve,” he said. “However, once established, moderate to severe eating disorders can take on a life of their own and continue even after the initial stressor that might have triggered them improves or resolves.”

The findings, published recently in the JAMA Network Open journal, dovetail with anecdotal evidence suggesting an increase in eating disorders in professional chat rooms and organizations like the National Eating Disorders Association, Allison said.

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