Pandemic brings surge of eating disorders among young people, experts say

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CLEVELAND (WJW) – Health experts at the Cleveland Clinic are worried about another crisis they’re saying is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – a surge in eating disorders among young people.

“Our numbers have doubled for people who are serious enough that they need acute medical stabilization in the hospital. Our numbers have quadrupled for people coming back with, for outpatient evaluations, new as well as people who have fallen off the recovery wagon,” said Dr. Ellen Rome, head of the Center for Adolescent Medicine at Cleveland Clinic Children.”

This isn’t a problem just relegated to northeast Ohio. Rome says hospital systems across the nation and the world are seeing this doubling, tripling and quadrupling of cases.

“We’re seeing all walks of life, all social-economic brackets, male, female, boy, girl, transgender, kids, it’s an equal opportunity disease affecting everybody in so many places,” Rome said.

She says the disease also runs the age spectrum from geriatric patients, to the very young. 

“My youngest eating disorder patient was five and had been binging and purging since she was 2 and a half,” Rome said.

The National Eating Disorders Association reported it saw a more than 58% jump in outreach to its helpline since the pandemic started.

“There’s all the regular stressors: isolation, depression, anxiety, and then add to that more time on their phone, more time on their personal enslavement device to have those triggers that social media can exacerbate in respect to body image,” Rome said.

Rome said red flags for parents and guardians to look for include not eating with the family or only in their room.

“Other red flags include lightheadedness, dizziness, fainting or change in behaviors, loss of periods [and] dry skin.”

There is concern that the growing delta variant could worsen the stress of kids or their parents and increase cases further.

“Anything that worsens the stress of kids or their parents will bring out the disordered eating or other maladaptive coping strategies. We want to make sure that parents know what resources are around, that they seek our help and that we get kids to the right resources early enough so that the behaviors don’t get hardwired,” Rome said.

Those resources include the National Eating Disorders Association along with working with dieticians and nutritionists.

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