As it has in many harmful ways, the pandemic has amplified another dangerous trend among young people: the rise of disordered eating.
Fueled by their non-stop use of social media, Americans under the age of 18 have high rates of “behavioral health conditions,” according to new data from Trilliant Health, with eating disorder diagnoses up 107.4% between 2018 and 2022. .
Anxiety and depression, known exacerbators of eating disorders, also increased during the same period.
The report echoed findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, which revealed that emergency room visits among teens with eating disorders have doubled during the pandemic.
Now, experts say patients are arriving in droves and they are “sicker than ever.”
“The kids are not doing well,” Melissa Freizinger, associate director of the eating disorders 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.”
By the second quarter of 2022, roughly April of last year, “behavioral health volumes” have soared more than 18% above pre-pandemic numbers, according to the new report from Trilliant Health.
New York patient Megan Bazzini, 22, told the outlet that the pandemic exacerbated symptoms of her eating disorder, from which she has recovered since her teens. “Before Covid, if your thing was going out for dumplings with your friends and you said you didn’t want to do it because of your eating disorder, you would stop inviting yourself to hang out,” she said Bazzini.
But suddenly, eating out was no longer accessible during the lockdowns and restrictions that followed. She was no longer stuck in social settings where she “needed to eat to make other people happy.”
“Eating disorders thrive in secret,” he said.
A staggering 22% of children and adolescents show signs of eating disorders, according to a study published in February.
The uptick, according to Trilliant Health, coincided with increased use of social media.
“Since the start of the pandemic, visits for eating disorders, depressive disorders, and self-harm among patients under 18 years of age have increased at higher rates than the general population and are correlated with greater use of social media,” the report reads. report.
A Common Sense Media survey reported that 84% of teens use social media such as YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok. Armed with algorithms that learn from user interests, the results have been disastrous.
“We’re seeing these algorithms target teens and make the content they watch more extreme,” Dr. Jessica Lin, an adolescent physician at Cincinnati Children’s, told NBC News.
If the young user was looking for home exercise videos during lockdown, “suddenly the algorithm says it’s interested in diet and exercise content, and it keeps coming back and getting worse,” he added.
Previous reports have suggested that social media apps exacerbate mental health issues across the board, but eating disorders in particular.
In 2021, Instagram was said to worsen the body image of one in three teenage girls. Then came TikTok, where “body check” clips and low-calorie “what I eat in a day” videos run rampant.
Now, amid a frenzy over weight-loss drugs like Ozempic and a resurgence in emaciated frames, pervasive content is rearing its ugly head.
“Now that high fashion brands are putting skimpy clothes on the runway for restrictedly skinny and naked women, it trickles down to fast fashion brands in a matter of days or even hours,” high fashion blogger Hunter Shires, known as the High End Homo online, he previously told The Post.
“The next minute, clothes that fit lanky girls are all over your ‘For You’ page, Instagram feed, and Twitter timeline.”
But being at the center of government investigations and investigative reports has prompted tech giants to step up.
In April, YouTube modified its community guidelines “to better protect the community from sensitive content that may pose a risk to some audiences.” The update included the power to remove “imitable content,” restrict certain age groups, and display information from crisis resources in videos on certain topics.
Eating disorders affect approximately 9% of the world’s population, and more than 28 million Americans are expected to develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the National Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders Association.
They are the second deadliest mental illness, after opioid overdoses, and cause more than 10,000 deaths each year.