Eating Disorders Are on the Rise, But Why?

eating disorders, eating, mental health, mental illness

For many people, pandemic effects are still lingering, and they have nothing to do with vaccines, social distancing, or masking. A spike of eating disorders occurred during the pandemic, and while there’s been a slight decrease in cases since, there are still more individuals affected now than before, creating a different kind of health crisis.

What Studies Report

In 2021, the American Society of Nutrition reported study results that indicated there was already a worldwide increase, “from 3.5 percent for the 2000–2006 period to 7.8 percent for the 2013–2018 period.” The most prominent disorders for women and men included anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The International Journal of Eating Disorders shared data from a 2020 study that revealed individuals with diagnosed anorexia “experienced a worsening of symptoms as the pandemic hit … [and] individuals with bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder reported increases in their binge-eating episodes and urges to binge.”

The journal JAMA Pediatrics also reported findings from a 2022 study focused on adolescents and young adults that showed “programs throughout the U.S. saw a significant, pandemic-associated increase in the number of patients seeking eating disorder–related care in both inpatient and outpatient settings.” Admission rates were more than 7 percent monthly, compared to an average of less than 1 percent monthly prior to the pandemic.

Overall, some experts state, the situation continues to be severe, especially for young adults with eating disorders, as there hasn’t been a return to pre-pandemic reporting and admissions levels yet, and there’s a lack of medical professionals with eating disorder experience and health care assistance.

Possible Reasons for the Rise in Eating Disorders

Researchers cite COVID as the key reason for the influx of eating disorder cases. Many people developed issues during the pandemic or relapsed after completing treatment prior to the pandemic for various reasons, such as:

  • Anxiety and uncertainty over world events
  • The impact of the pandemic on their mental health, rather than physical health
  • The stress of isolation
  • Changes in their usual eating patterns
  • Accessibility to and restrictions of food allowed for consistent eating plans
  • More frequent urges to binge, especially during quarantine while working from home
  • Limited support group or telehealth access

Eating Disorders: The Frightening Statistics

Here’s a small sample of the most recent statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), which we provide verbatim:

  • Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, second only to opioid overdose.
  • About 26 percent of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.
  • 10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder—that’s one death every 52 minutes.
  • 9 percent of the U.S. population, or 28.8 million Americans, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.
  • Individuals in the BIPOC community with eating disorders are half as likely to be diagnosed or to receive treatment.
  • People in larger bodies are half as likely as those at a “normal weight” or “underweight” to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • 81 percent of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat.
  • Less than 6 percent of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”
  • 28-74 percent of risk for eating disorders is through genetic heritability.

Symptoms of Eating Disorders

According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDA), people with eating disorders and disordered eating behavior share many common symptoms, including:

  • An intense preoccupation with body image and/or weight
  • Avoidance of a type of food or food group
  • Binge eating
  • Compulsive eating
  • Excessive dieting or use of diet pills
  • Fasting or skipping meals
  • Inflexible or irregular eating patterns
  • Laxative, diuretic, and/or enema misuse
  • Purging
  • Restrictive eating
  • Steroid and creatine use

An eating disorder can be an individual’s primary health issue, but it can also be a co-occurring disorder for a person diagnosed with mental and emotional health issues, such as addiction, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For additional resources about eating disorders, reach out to these hotlines:

ANAD: 888-375-7767
NEDA: 800-931-2237

Turn to Cottonwood Tucson for Compassionate Care

If you believe you or your loved one may have an eating disorder, we encourage you to take this self-assessment. The admissions staff at our Tucson, AZ, center is ready to answer your questions 24/7 about how to receive evidence-based treatment with board-certified medical professionals dedicated to your well-being.

Considering mental health treatment in Arizona? For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.

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