Industry News

Eating Disorder Surge

March 15, 2023
Chicago Health
How Covid-19 created a wave of eating disorders among America’s youth.

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From age 12 to 25, Mackenzie Carmichael felt controlled by the food she both ate and didn’t eat. At 24, after denying her eating disorder (ED) for years, she hit her version of rock bottom and went through inpatient treatment after her friends held an intervention. Carmichael ended up at the Eating Recovery Center, diagnosed with anorexia and orthorexia.

“My ED made me feel powerful, in control, and the thought of losing it scared me more than anything,” Carmichael says. “I didn’t know who I’d be without it, so it became my identity.”

In the years since the Covid-19 pandemic began, eating disorders have increased significantly. Researchers have linked this trend with increased stress, loneliness, a lack of control over daily life and routine, greater access to food, and more time spent on social media.

Studies suggest that the lifetime prevalence of eating disorders among women in the U.S. ranges from 9% to 15%, according to Timberline Knolls, an eating disorder treatment center in Lemont, Illinois. Between January 2020, shortly before the pandemic, and January 2021, there was an alarming rise in admissions and helpline calls for eating disorders, associated with a rise in the number of children waiting for treatment. Some 40% more required treatment than in previous years, according to a 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To meet the need, treatment centers such as the Eating Recovery Center have increased the number of patients they can accept.

“We’ve added a combined 88 beds for child and adolescent residential treatment in our centers across the country, as well as added capacity for at least 28 more patients in partial hospitalization programs,” says Ellen Astrachan-Fletcher, PhD, Midwest regional clinical director for the Eating Recovery Center, based in Chicago.“Some of this capacity was switched from adult treatment to child and adolescent treatment because the need has been so high, particularly for young people.”

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