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Eating disorders rising in teens and kids

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Posted at 12:15 PM, Dec 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-19 15:16:27-05

Scientists worried that cases of eating disorders were spiking during the pandemic, and doctors hoped as more kids and young people went back to school and got back into a routine post-pandemic that the number of kids suffering from eating disorders would decrease. However, they are seeing the exact opposite to be true.

“I didn't know how to get out of the hole I had dug,” said college student Katie Kittredge.

Kittredge has spent the last several years on a journey to get well. She developed an eating disorder when she transitioned from middle school to high school.

“It wasn't this intentional, ‘Oh, I'm going out right now to try and starve myself’ or anything like that,” said Kittredge. “It was truly ‘I feel out of control and the only place I feel like I can control right now is food.'”

Her parents helped her get treatment at the Eating Recovery Center, and after two inpatient stays, Kittredge was in recovery. Then, the pandemic hit.

“That was a really hard time because I think everything that I had looked up to for four years kind of seemed like it crashed upon itself,” recalled Kittredge. “I really struggled with control and perfectionism and that really is a catalyst for my eating disorder, and I had to make very conscious decisions about, ‘OK, what am I going to do?’”

But she wasn’t alone. Kittredge was one of many young people across the country who struggled with an eating disorder during the pandemic, and that trend hasn’t lessened.

Dr. Elizabeth Wassenaar said more young people are struggling now because many did not start receiving treatment during the pandemic. She also said that new patients’ symptoms are more severe than ever.

“They're very ill from both their eating disorder and their other mental health concerns depression, anxiety, OCD, and all of the consequences of it is that if we don't address the mental health concerns of our youth, it's going to impact them for their entire lives,” said Wassenaar.

A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association documented a 34% increase in eating disorder cases—both inpatient and outpatient cases—in young people during the pandemic.

That’s why the Eating Recovery Center is expanding its support for young people by building new virtual programs available worldwide. The group also recently expanded resources by opening a new in-patient center in Denver for young people. Its programming options Dr. Wassenaar said have never been this available until now.

“There's just huge treatment deserts for child adolescent patients that need eating disorder care, and now we can break that barrier down so we can actually meet people where they are in their hometown, in their families,” said Wassenaar.

Wassenaar said she is hoping this can be a path to stopping what she sees as a dangerous trend.

“We know that when people become ill in their adolescence with severe mental illness and they don't get adequate treatment, that they have functional impairments, developmental impairments. They're not able to be a part of society,” said Wassenaar.

Wassenaar expects more young people will need help in this coming year and encourages parents to check on their kids if they suddenly change eating habits, start working out more frequently, or are pulling back from hobbies or relationships.

Wassenaar said she wants those struggling to hear that no matter where you are, help is close by.

“That's the most exciting thing about treatment, is that people can have full recovery,” said Dr. Wassenaar.

“What used to be a huge part of my life, which was my eating disorder, has now become really minuscule,” said Kittredge. “It's not something that I'm constantly thinking about, which is so beautiful.”

For more information on resources provided by the Eating Recovery Center, click HERE.