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Girls’ eating disorders leapt 42 percent during the pandemic

Eating disorders and self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 soared during Covid, research has revealed.

Scientists said abnormal eating behaviour rose 42 percent and self-harm episodes went up 38 percent in two years.

Rises were also seen in 17 to 19-year-olds but to a lesser degree.

The Manchester University team’s findings add to growing evidence of a link between lockdowns and teenagers’ worsening mental health.

Researchers say better early identification of mental health difficulties, quicker access to treatment and improved services is “crucial” to prevent existing conditions spiralling.

Report lead author Alex Trafford, a PhD student, said: “Sufficient access to and support from general practitioners and mental health services should be made available to meet the needs of the growing number of young people presenting to services.”

Eating disorders are among the most deadly mental health illnesses. Teenage sufferers have a higher risk of suicide than the general population.

Body dissatisfaction and desire for weight loss are key contributors. Conditions include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

Possible triggers are isolation, lack of structure and heightened anxiety. Teens also faced social media pressure not to gain weight in lockdown.

Mr Trafford’s team looked at data from 1,881 UK GP practices, of more than nine million people aged 10 to 24 from 2010-2020. It predicted expected rates of eating disorders and self-harm if Covid had not occurred, from March 2020, to March 2022. They were then compared with actual diagnoses.

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There were 3,862 observed eating disorder cases in 13-16-year-old girls, compared with a non-Covid projection of 2,713, and 9,174 self-harm cases of compared with an estimated 6,631.

Mr Trafford said: “The apparent increase in eating disorders and self-harm among teenage girls is a long-term consequence of the pandemic that remains to be addressed.”

And he warned: “Although incident rate increases were not observed among boys, their difficulties might manifest in other disorders.”

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  • Posted on June 20, 2023