Eating disorders rising in children and teens amid pandemic

Special Reports

(NEWS10) — Doctors have seen a significant rise in the number of patients struggling with eating disorders over the past year. They say the pandemic has created the perfect storm for these issues to develop, and that parents should be looking for the signs of disordered eating in their children now more than ever.

Dr. Julie Morison, owner and director of HPA/LiveWell, a psychology practice in Albany with intensive outpatient eating disorder treatment, says eating disorders don’t always stem from body image issues and don’t always have to do with food.

“What we know is that disordered eating is maintained because it’s a coping skill used for other stuff that’s going on,” Morison said.

In such a chaotic time, when we often feel there is so much out of our control, we look for something to help us cope, according to Morison.

“People are looking inward and saying, ‘well, what can I change in this world? Well, maybe I can change weight, shape and size.’”

“We have this pandemic, which is causing stress, anxiety and depression, and exacerbation of other symptoms,” Morison continued, “and unfortunately, while we’re trying to do the best we can, a lot of us default to our worst skills.”

According to Dr. Morison, this is happening to an alarming number of young people.

In what she described as a “scary” development, her office is getting an influx of calls about kids ages 11 through 14. She says parents are shocked that this is happening to their children.

While it’s understandable that many parents have their hands full right now, Morison says the issue will continue to snowball if no one is paying attention.

“They need to have family dinners. If those dinners are being avoided, why? They need to know what their kids are watching on social media, they need to know who they’re getting their information from, they need to vet that information, and they need to educate their kids.”

Gianluca Russo, a writer from the Capital Region with bylines in Teen Vogue, GQ, and Glamour, has written extensively about eating disorders, and the role pop culture and social media play in them. He says young people have become more vulnerable than they already were to information that could affect their body image and sense of self.

”I think it’s a lot more difficult now, during the pandemic, because teens and people who use social media are online so much more than they were before,” Russo says.

Experts advise you to have an open mind about who in your life could be silently battling an eating disorder, and that includes men, who often hesitate to seek treatment because of stereotypes that these are “women’s issues.” Additionally, someone doesn’t have to look underweight or ill to be in need of professional help. 

Resources:

National Eating Disorders Association
Eating Disorders Screening tool
National Eating Disorders Association helpline: (800) 931-2237

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