Americans' eating habits have changed for the worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, including an increase in eating disorders, researchers say.
For their study, the University of Minnesota team analyzed information gathered between April and May of 2020 from participants in a study called Project EAT.
The analysis found a link between the pandemic and several unhealthy eating habits. Among them: mindless eating and snacking; increased overall eating; lower appetite or dietary intake; eating to cope; and an increase in eating disorders.
"The disruptions to daily life associated with the ongoing pandemic may have significant negative consequences for the risk of eating disorders and symptoms," said lead study author Melissa Simone. She is a postdoctoral research fellow in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Minnesota Medical School, in Minneapolis.
About 8% of the study participants reported extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors; 53% had less extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors; and 14% reported binge eating.
The findings are concerning because eating disorders claim 10,200 lives every year in the United States, or roughly one person every 52 minutes, according to the authors.
The findings were recently published online in the International Journal of Eating Disorders.
The study authors said there's a strong link between increases in eating disorders and poor stress management, greater depressive symptoms, and moderate or serious financial problems.
According to Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, principal investigator of Project EAT, "There has been a lot of focus on obesity and its connection with COVID-19. It is also important to focus on the large number of people who have been engaging in disordered eating and are at risk for eating disorders during and following the pandemic."
Simone noted that the economic fallout of the pandemic will likely continue even after many folks have been vaccinated.
"Because our findings suggest that moderate or severe financial difficulties may be linked with disordered eating behaviors, it is essential that eating disorder preventive interventions and treatment efforts be affordable, easily accessible and widely disseminated to those at heightened risk," Simone said. "As such, online or mobile-based interventions may prove to be effective and accessible modes for targeted intervention efforts."
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on eating disorders.
SOURCE: University of Minnesota, news release, April 12, 2021