May 1, 2023 -- The number of teenagers being treated for eating disorders is increasing, experts say.
From 2018 to 2022, health care visits for eating disorders in people younger than 17 went up 107.4%, according to a report released by Trilliant Health, a data company. There were about 50,000 health care visits in 2018, compared to more than 100,000 in 2022. Visits for anorexia nervosa went up 129.26%.
Health care visits can include in-person doctor appointments, hospitalizations, and even telehealth.
“The kids are not OK,” Melissa Freizinger, the associate director of the eating disorder program at Boston Children’s Hospital, told NBC News. “As the pandemic started and then progressed, we kept thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to get better in 2022. Oh, it’s going to get better in 2023. But it hasn’t.”
She said the COVID pandemic made the situation worse. Young patients are sicker than before, with more severe psychiatric symptoms.
“We all have collective trauma from the pandemic, but many of these kids have PTSD," said Freizinger. "They’re also younger.”
Previous studies have found the pandemic caused more people to have eating disorders.
“Eating disorders thrive in secrecy,” said Jennifer Lombardi, a certified eating disorder specialist and manager of behavioral health for the Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center. “During the pandemic, when people are stressed, fearful, and disconnected from others, it’s difficult for them to use healthy coping strategies.”
The CDC reported in February 2022 that hospitalizations for eating disorders went up sharply during the pandemic and doubled for adolescent girls.