COVID-19 and eating disorders
2/21/2022 by Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., L.P.
Obesity is a medical diagnosis based on body mass index (BMI) and medical examination. This condition was described as a public health crisis prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and BMI numbers have been on the rise during the pandemic. This is especially true for those who were overweight prior to the pandemic, and school-aged children.
Eating disorders also have increased during the pandemic, especially among teens. More than 30 million people in the U.S. will struggle with an eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is the most common condition that can be associated with weight gain and obesity.
Most eating disorders share common features, such as feeling out of control, excessive thoughts about food and eating, and negative emotions and self-talk related to body image. Binge eating disorder involves consuming large amounts of food followed by shame and guilt, frequent dieting without weight loss, and eating alone or in secret.
Pandemic factors, such as isolation, increased stress, job changes or job loss, loss of routine, boredom, and racial and ethnic disparities appear to be related to increases in the rate of obesity and eating disorders.
Here are some treatment options to consider:
- Early screening of BMI and food security coupled with early intervention.
- Integration of school, families, medical centers and community resources.
- Review of the social determinants of health in medical settings. Social determinants of health are the conditions in the environment that affect a wide range of health, functioning and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
- Lifestyle modifications, such as fewer sweetened or sugar beverages, consumption of more fruits and vegetables, more physical activity, and less screen and social media time.
- Modification of stress and environmental conditions that worsen the stress reaction.
- Seeking specialized management through a trained provider or care team.
Although prevention for eating disorders is the preferred approach, coordinated efforts are required, given the ongoing public health emergency due to COVID-19.
Lisa Hardesty, Ph.D., L.P., joined Mayo Clinic Health System in 1998. She currently practices in Mankato, Minn., and has extensive training as a board-certified health psychologist, highlighting positive psychology and robust models of well-being.