How the pandemic impacted admissions for eating disorders

Connecting with others in a meaningful way and experiencing a variety of activities with peers has been very difficult over the past 18 months, leading to mental health issues for many. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the use of health care for non-COVID-19 reasons, with many elective surgeries rescheduled and many visits to good children with routine vaccination not taking place. Early data shows that many adults and teens with eating disorders had worsening symptoms during this time. Researchers at CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan, conducted a study to determine whether medical admission patterns for restrictive eating disorders in teens changed compared to prepandemic numbers.1

The researchers surveyed patients, ages 10 to 23, who were hospitalized for restrictive eating disorders from March 2017 to March 2021. Restrictive eating disorders include avoidant or restrictive food intake disorder, anorexia nervosa, atypical anorexia nervosa, or unspecified eating disorders characterized by some form of restriction. Non-restrictive eating disorders were not included in the study because those patients were less likely to develop medical complications or malnutrition than patients with restrictive disorders.

The researchers found that medical admissions related to eating disorders increased significantly during the pandemic. Overall, the total number of admissions (125) during the first 12 months of the pandemic, defined from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021) was more than double the average number (56) admissions per year for the previous 3 year. Patient demographics were similar before and during the pandemic, with one exception: patients admitted during the pandemic were less likely to have public insurance than patients admitted during the pre-pandemic period.

While the findings include only one institution, the researchers noted that they tie in with other studies on the topic. They noted that while the pathogenesis of eating disorders is still somewhat mysterious, psychological factors and social influences play a role. Teens with low self-esteem or depressive symptoms are more likely to develop eating disorders, and both factors worsened for many during the pandemic. The addition of disrupted exercise and eating routines may have contributed to the development of an eating disorder in at-risk teens.

The researchers concluded that there was a significant increase in admissions related to restrictive eating disorders during the pandemic. The researchers said clinicians should be ready to provide care for restrictive eating disorders in teens as the pandemic continues.


1. Otto A, Jary J, Sturza J, et al. Medical admissions among young people with eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pediatrics. September 10, 2021. Epub before press. doi:10.1542/peds.2021-052201

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