Teens are being hospitalized with eating disorders at double the rate since the pandemic began, report says

A woman with smoke behind more.
  • Rates of young patients hospitalized with eating disorders have tripled in one Boston hospital.
  • Outpatient settings are seeing a spike in eating disorders, too.
  • Excessively working out or obsessing over food are some of the signs of an eating disorder.
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Across the country, there’s been a spike in adolescents seeking treatment for eating disorders during the pandemic, new data suggest.

“We sort of look at it like a second pandemic, the mental-health needs in adolescents,” Dr. Tracy Richmond, director of the eating-disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal, “and eating disorders is part of that.”

Rates of patients hospitalized with eating disorders more than tripled at Boston Children’s Hospital, according to Richmond, with some patients having lost up to 50% of their body weight. This spike in treatment occurred in the outpatient setting, too, as some weeks had 23 case reviews, up from a weekly average of six.

Young, white women have typically been diagnosed with eating disorders pre-pandemic, but Richardson said she’s seen a rise in young men and minorities, too.

The trend isn’t just limited to Boston’s Children’s Hospital: according to Richmond’s early data, hospitalizations for eating disorders doubled at 14 eating disorder treatment centers.

Eating Recovery Center, which consists of 30 centers, also said there were 2,000 new patient calls in January and February of 2021 – a 90% increase from the same time period in 2020 – and one eating disorder treatment center in Kansas City, Missouri, has a six-month wait list for new patients, the Journal reported.

Experts say isolation may play a role in the rise of eating disorders

Experts say the most common eating disorder they’ve seen is anorexia nervosa, but they’ve also seen bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

Families and experts believe that isolation, social media, and lack of extracurricular activities gave adolescents time to obsess about their body image and food intake.

“The COVID pandemic has presented society and in particular adolescents with very, very significant psychological challenges. This has been a big event that has disrupted a lot of people’s lives in many ways and it may be months or years before we see all of the true impacts,” Dr. Dave Little told the Associated Press about the same trend.

Little told the AP that parents need to communicate with their kids to stem any potential unhealthy eating patterns from getting worse.

“Talk to your kids, talk to your patients. Ensure that eating behaviors remain healthy and the sooner you get an indication that there may be an issue … the sooner you respond the better,” Little said.