Get the Latest News Updates

“There are more teens than ever with severe eating disorders,”

Teens have never had so many eating problems that they had to go to the hospital. During the pandemic, the number went up, and it was more common in teenage girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts have warned, though, that eating disorders, especially anorexia, are still common among young people, even though their lives have gone back to normal.

“The kids are not OK,” said Melissa Freizinger, who is the associate head of the eating disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital. As the pandemic started and got worse, we kept thinking, “Oh, it’ll get better in 2022. Oh, 2023 will be a better year. It hasn’t, though.”

In the past five years, the number of people younger than 17 who went to hospitals for eating disorder problems has more than doubled. This includes hospital stays, visits to pediatricians, virtual talk therapy, and everything in between.

From the beginning of 2018 to the middle of 2022, visits by people in this age group for all eating problems rose by 107.4%, from about 50,000 visits in 2018 to more than 100,000 in 2022.

Visits about anorexia nervosa, the mental disease with the highest death rate, went up by 129.26%.

Pandemic has made depression and worry worse, which are both things that can cause or make eating disorders worse.

Even though the number of visits for eating disorders has gone down since their peak in 2021, they are still higher than they were before the COVID pandemic. This is because teens and younger teens are still dealing with the effects of COVID.

“They’re sicker and more complicated now than they were before,” Freizinger said.

She said that even after COVID, a lot of kids are still going to the hospital. Many of them need medical help to get stable because they are malnourished, and their mental health problems are worse.

“The outbreak has made us all feel bad, but many of these kids have PTSD. “Plus, they’re younger,” she said.

The effect of social media
Experts say that there is no way to separate social media from the teen eating disorder problem.

In a survey by the nonprofit Common Sense Media, 84% of kids said they used social media. YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok were the most popular apps.

Experts think that the algorithms of these platforms support eating disorders and make people feel bad about their bodies.

She gave the example of a teen watching home exercise videos and said, “Suddenly the algorithm says they’re interested in exercise and diet material, and it just keeps showing up and getting worse. From there, things can only get worse.”

Parents have recently sued social media sites like TikTok, Meta (which owns Instagram), and Google (which owns YouTube) because they say that the sites led their teens to get eating disorders.

Companies have cut the amount of material and warning labels because they are worried.

How to figure out what’s wrong?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) was the first time that binge eating was recognized as an eating problem by the American Psychiatric Association.

The DSM-5 got rid of the rule that people with anorexia had to stop having their periods. It also added a category called “atypical anorexia” for people with anorexia who aren’t exactly underweight.

This had a lot of different people in it.

“By making the criteria broader, we became more aware that men can have eating disorders, especially anorexia, and that people with bigger bodies can also get anorexia. So it’s clear that there’s been more attention and more acceptance,” said Lin.

“Because of the rise in demand, it’s much harder to get help for eating disorders right now, and that’s where we’re stuck,” Lin said.

“These teens need to get help as soon as possible if they want to get better, and we’re still a long way from having enough providers to help everyone who needs it.”