The University of Michigan recently reported that teens with eating disorders were twice as likely to be hospitalized as teens without EDs. For example, in the first 12 months of the COVID-19 outbreak, 125 eating disorders-related hospitalizations of young persons with EDs aged 10 to 23 were reported by the University of Michigan health system. In comparison, 56 teens without EDs were hospitalized within the same time. The highest rates of admissions occurred between 9 and 12 months after the start of the pandemic, and rates were still climbing when the study ended in March this year.
Author Dr. Alana Otto, an adolescent medicine specialist at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, noted that the higher rate of admissions emphasized “how profoundly the pandemic has affected young people,” due to school closures, canceled extracurricular activities, and, importantly, the effects of social isolation. She added, “For adolescents with eating disorders and those at risk for eating disorders, these significant disruptions may have worsened or triggered symptoms.”
The Michigan study may represent only a fraction of the young persons with EDs affected by the pandemic because only young people with severe illness from eating disorders were included in the study. Dr. Otto underscored the importance of stressful events, which may lead to development of symptoms in a young person already at risk for an ED, adding that the absence of routine, disruptions of daily activities, and a sense of loss of control were all important contributing factors. She added, “When everything is out of control, the one thing they feel they can control is their eating.”