According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, one unfortunate side effect of the pandemic has been an alarming rise in eating disorders among teenagers. Outpatient and inpatient treatment centers for eating disorders report record numbers of patients and long waiting lists. Eating disorders are a condition characterized by severe, persistent disturbances in eating behaviors, coupled with distressing thoughts and emotions.
Experts believe changes in routine, diminished social connections, increased anxiety, and greater use of social media have all contributed to the problem. Eating disorders are a serious medical issue and can be fatal. Some of the most common eating disorders are:
- Anorexia Nervosa
- Bulimia Nervosa
- Binge Eating Disorder
- Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
“Eating disorders are complex and often need intensive treatment,” remarked Kia McCarthy, NP of the Reliant Pediatrics department. “Psychological factors, genetics, and social influences all play a role. Isolation is also a big factor. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has placed children and adolescents at a higher risk of developing eating disorders.”
An estimated 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States will deal with an eating disorder during their lifetimes, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating disorders often start early in life, often just before the teenage years. This is also the time when children begin to engage more and more in social media. “Unfortunately, social media gives adolescents a never-ending way to compare themselves to others and it often affects their self-esteem,” remarked McCarthy. “In many instances, they are comparing themselves to an impossible standard, and that can lead to the types of eating disorders that we are seeing.”
Parents should be alert for signs that their children are becoming preoccupied with their weight and appearance, and changes in their relations with food and exercise. If issues develop and start to affect their quality of life and their health, parents should take action. Some children and adolescents, especially those suffering from anorexia nervosa, are very good at hiding their problem, which can make the signs of illness easy to miss. Those with these disorders may, for example, wear baggy clothes to disguise their condition, exercise excessively when their parents aren’t noticing, or throw up their meals in the bathroom. Many children and adolescents with eating disorders also suffer from depression and anxiety, which can lead to self-harming behavior.
Eating disorders do not go away on their own; they require intervention and intensive treatment. The earlier a parent intervenes, the better the outcome. So be sure to talk to your pediatrician if you think your child has an eating disorder. You can learn more about eating disorders below:
About Kia McCarthy, NP
A graduate of Connecticut College and Simmons College, Kia started her career as a nurse in 2004. “I have nurses in my family and have been very lucky to work with extremely dedicated and talented nurse practitioners during my career,” she explains. “When the opportunity presented itself to expand my knowledge as a nurse practitioner to provide more comprehensive care, I decided to jump right in.”
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