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Eating disorders triggered, worsened by coronavirus pandemic


Eating disorders are thriving as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its sixth month of reshaping American life.

Hotline calls to the National Eating Disorders Association are up 70-80% in recent months, according to a Tuesday report by NPR.

For many Americans, eating is tied to stress, anxiety and other disorders. Often an emotional coping mechanism, it can be triggered by food scarcity and stockpiling behavior.


In July, an International Journal of Eating Disorders survey of 1,000 participants found that 62% of people in the U.S. with anorexia nervosa — a disorder characterized by extremely limited eating and abnormally low weight — experienced a worsening of symptoms as the pandemic hit.

Almost a third of Americans with the more common bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorders reported an increase in episodes.

Forbes reported at the time that when asked Likert-scale questions — with multiple-choice responses from “not at all concerned” to “very concerned” — about how various COVID-19-related stressors would impact their disorders, “the most prevalent concerns were lack of structure, triggering environment, lack of social support, and being unable to access food consistent with their meal plan.”

In the U.S., 57% were also anxious about not being able to exercise.

Eating disorders can be a lethal threat. The conditions have the second-highest mortality rate of any psychiatric diagnosis; only opioid use disorder is ranked higher.

Although teletherapy has offered a safer solution to medical visits in the past few months, 45% of respondents to the International Journal of Eating Disorders study reported they were left without care.

Digital video tools such as Zoom have left many users with heightened body dysmorphia disorder, a mental condition defined by an obsessive focus with one’s perceived physical flaws so intense that it disrupts daily living.

According to the International OCD Foundation, about 1.7% to 2.9% of the general population is afflicted by the anxiety disorder — or about 1 in 50 people.

In addition, misperceptions about whom eating disorders affect have been detrimental to effective treatment. They’re often mistakenly presumed to primarily affect White women, leaving them overlooked in men, boys and people of color.


Males make up a quarter of eating disorder cases.

To find out more or get help in dealing with an eating disorder, you can contact the National Eating Disorder Association online, or text “NEDA” to 741741 to reach a trained volunteer at the group’s crisis text line.

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