Hospitalizations for eating disorders increased during pandemic
Emergency department (ED) visits and hospital admissions for eating disorders increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents aged 10 to 17 years, as did ED visits among young adults and older adults, according to new research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Using ICES data, researchers compared observed and expected rates of ED visits and hospitalizations for eating disorders before and during the pandemic in adolescents, young adults, adults and older adults.
"Our findings reveal significant variations in the utilization of acute care services for eating disorders across different age groups,” says first author Dr. Alene Toulany, Staff Physician and Associate Scientist-Track Investigator in the Child Health Evaluative Sciences program at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and adjunct scientist at ICES, Toronto, Ontario. “This highlights the need for a nuanced approach in allocating mental health resources and expanding system capacity and resources dedicated to both adolescent and adult eating disorder programs.”
Emergency department visits increased 121 per cent among adolescents
Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the study found that:
- Emergency department visit rates for eating disorders were 7.38 per 100 000 for adolescents in the 30 months after the start of the pandemic, representing a 121 per cent increase compared with expected.
- ED visits for young adults increased above expected by 13 per cent.
- Hospital admissions increased 54 per cent above expected in adolescents.
The research team noted that a combination of factors may have contributed to the increase in eating disorders, including concerns about health and exercise with the closure of gyms and other opportunities for physical activity, increased time on social media and household stress.
The authors recommend more investment in eating disorder programs for adolescents and adults along with continued research on attributing changes to new eating disorders or the exacerbation of pre-existing eating disorders.
This study was funded by ICES and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).