Doctors who reported nearly twice as many admissions for teens with eating disorders warn that it may be the tip of the iceberg, as the data only reflect those with severe cases. The study, published in a pre-publication by Pediatrics, saw 125 admissions among patients ages 10-23 at Michigan Medicine during the first 12 months of the pandemic.
On average, the hospital sees about 56 a year. During the pandemic, admissions increased each month with the most recorded between nine and 12 months of the pandemic.
“These findings underscore how deeply the pandemic has affected young people who have experienced school closures, canceled leisure activities and social isolation,”
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Otto, who also warned that the data “does not capture the whole picture” and “could be truly conservative estimates,” added that the sense of loss of control could have played a role as well.
“For many young people, when everything feels out of control, the only thing they can control is that they eat,” she said.
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Another factor could have been delayed care of patients experiencing non-COVID-19 diseases, as many healthcare facilities were limited during lock-in. Several studies have linked deteriorating mental health in teens to the pandemic, with some hospitals reporting an increase in teen suicide attempts and other health crises. The rising demand for psychiatric services sees some facing unprecedented waiting times, further contributing to the crisis.
“Although our findings reflect the experience of a single institution, they are in line with new reports on the potential of the pandemic to have profound negative effects on the mental and physical health of young people across the globe,” Otto said.
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Otto said the results suggest doctors need to be aware of potential risks of eating disorders and monitor patients for signs and symptoms.