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The Pandemic’s Impact on Children and Youth: Eating Disorders

December 20, 2021

Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a pediatrician in Saskatoon, said the pandemic has led to an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders in children and youth in Saskatchewan and a “dramatic increase” in hospitalizations. According to her ongoing study, eating disorders are on the rise among young people, and she has seen kids as young as 11 and 12 hospitalized due to an eating disorder. She believes there are multiple reasons for these increases including disrupted routines, remote learning, and increased time spent on social media. She offers several things to be on the lookout for, such as changes in eating patterns and behaviors, eating alone, and even the way a young person eats as potential indicators that should be given attention. She also invites parents to consider the importance of seeking support as soon as possible, including support from a physician.

Similar findings have been in the news recently that show this to be a trend across the country. Hospitals, such as Sick Kids in Toronto are reporting a 35% increase in admissions to their eating disorder programs, and a children’s hospital in Hamilton says it’s seen a 90% spike in referrals to its eating disorder program. The Kids Help Phone and other online services are also noting an alarming spike in the number of people seeking help for eating disorders. In a study drawing participants from many provinces across Canada, they found that during the first wave of the pandemic, monthly new cases of anorexia and atypical anorexia increased by more than 60 percent and monthly hospitalization nearly tripled compared to pre-pandemic rates, and call for early and more attention to be paid to children and youth’s mental health, and to the protective factors that can support them.

For more information on disordered eating, please visit:

https://www.childtraumaresearch.ca/assets/disordered-eating-during-covid-19-ims.pdf.

Some practical suggestions include:
  • Provide reminders that “fat” is something that all people have on their bodies, not an emotion that someone can feel. Encourage self-analysis of what emotions and thoughts are being experienced when the word “fat” is used.
  • Adults should be cautious of how they speak about their bodies in front of children and youth. Obsessing over the need to lose weight or other body image issues may make children feel that they need to do the same.
  • Validate thoughts of negative body image. Often, first instincts are to debate these thoughts (e.g. “You’re not fat!”). Instead, try to listen, acknowledge, and validate concerns by encouraging young people to talk about their struggles with body image.
  • Encourage people who experience disordered eating to set boundaries for themselves. This can include setting social media limits, avoiding magazines, and changing the subject when others discuss topics of food or body image.
  • Encourage habits of positive thinking and reducing stimuli that sustain the harmful practices, such as having continuous access to a scale.

 

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