Covering Eating Disorders Week? Let our experts explain how COVID-19 can affect eating disorders

Feb 22, 2021

3 min

Kelly Klump

COVID-19 is presenting many different issues across all spectrums of society and life. The experts at Michigan State University took questions and provided answers in order to assist those looking to know more about how COVID-19 can affect eating disorders.

Eating disorders can often stem from trauma or stress. Kelly L. Klump, professor in the Department of Psychology and fellow in the Academy for Eating Disorders, answers questions on eating disorders and how the pandemic may trigger or exacerbate this disorder.

Q: Is there any evidence that the pandemic triggers eating disorder behaviors among teenagers?

We have emerging data on risk for eating disorders during COVID-19. Although data are in the early stage, we are seeing increased weight-shape concerns, increased binge eating and, potentially, increased dietary restriction during COVID-19. These symptoms seem to be increasing in the general population, but results are more consistent in showing exacerbation of these symptoms in individuals with anorexia nervosa (increased restriction and potentially exercise) and bulimia nervosa (increased binge eating and purging).

Reasons for these increases aren’t entirely clear, but theories focus on increased stress, increased isolation and, for individuals in recovery, decreased access to care during the pandemic. There are also fears of weight gain due to less activity overall that may fuel concerns about weight/shape and later, eating disorder symptoms. Limitations in access to food during the pandemic also seem to be related to these symptoms. Although, how they are related may vary across eating disorder symptoms.

Q: What are some signs parents should be aware of that might indicate eating disorder behaviors or warning signs?

These signs would be similar to those that we watch for during non-pandemic times. Decreased food intake, increased exercise and increased discussion of weight concerns are early signs. In addition, if food that was present (particularly high fat/high sugar foods) comes up missing frequently, this could be a sign of binge eating. Because eating disorders are highly comorbid with depression and anxiety, increased signs of these conditions (e.g., sad mood, withdrawal, increased anxiety about a range of concerns) could be early signs, particularly if in combination with the weight/shape/binge eating early signs mentioned above.

Q: What should a parent who is concerned their child is exhibiting eating disorder behaviors do to address the issue?

The first step is to talk with your teen and listen. Check in on how they are doing generally, but then also let them know about the signs you are seeing and your concerns. Empathic listening is key in these conversations and letting them know that you would like to do whatever is needed to help. They may not be willing to talk the first time they are approached. It might take multiple conversations for them to open up and/or admit that they need help.

Q: What resources are available to parents looking to get help for their kids right now?

There are some websites that can help parents identify eating disorder specialists in their area, including:

• Academy for Eating Disorders. Find an Expert page

• National Eating Disorders Association

Q: Are families facing obstacles in getting preteens and teenagers help for eating disorder behaviors because of COVID-19 measures?

A potential decrease in treatment resources appears to be present for eating disorders and other psychiatric illnesses. Treatment that is available may be in the form of telehealth, which some individuals may find very helpful, while others may feel is not enough. We are still collecting data on treatment availability during COVID-19, so we don’t have great data on availability. But early theories are that treatment access may be decreased.

Q: What advice do you have for parents who feel like they are seeing their teenagers’ past eating disorders either reappear or become more severe in light of COVID-19?

Seek help and do so early. Catching an increase or exacerbation of symptoms early in the process will increase the chances that you can catch the symptoms before they become more severe. Your teen may need “booster” sessions with treaters that can help them get back on track and help them cope with current stressors.

If you are a journalist looking to know more or interview Dr. Klump, then let us help - simply click on her icon now to arrange an interview today.

Connect with:
Kelly Klump

Kelly Klump

MSU Foundation Professor of Psychology and Fellow, Academy for Eating Disorders

Kelly Klump is an expert in genetic and biological factors of eating disorders.

PsychologyEating Disorders

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Ask the expert: 2024 economic outlook

Although the economy has improved since the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation has been a challenge for many Americans throughout 2023 and the economy remains a top issue ahead of the 2024 election. Experts are already making predictions about interest rates, inflation and the market for next year. Antonio Doblas Madrid is an associate professor in the Department of Economics in Michigan State University’s College of Social Science. He reflects on the economy this past year and answers questions about what you can anticipate about the economy in 2024. What are a few of the most memorable economic events of 2023? The economy in 2023 reminds me of Rocky Balboa, the boxer with a strong chin from the Rocky films who, despite getting hit over and over, keeps moving forward. A year ago, the consensus prediction among investors and professional forecasters was slower growth and higher unemployment. Inflation was still above 6%, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates to one of the highest rates in 40 years, and the stock market ended 2022 in the red. Many observers said a ‘soft landing’ was a pipe dream and a recession inevitable. The year 2023 brought its own set of challenges. To name a few, a debt ceiling standoff started in January and continued until May, bringing the government dizzyingly close to default and causing a ratings downgrade. In March, the failure of Silicon Valley Bank started a crisis that, had it not been contained by a historic expansion of deposit guarantees, would have spread through the system and taken down the economy. A war broke out in Gaza. A large-scale auto workers strike temporarily shut down large parts of the sector. And the economy of China, a major trading partner, decelerated. Given all this, it is remarkable how good the numbers look right now. Inflation has steadily fallen to around 3% and is now within striking distance of the 2% target. The most recent gross domestic product, or GDP, report shows a robust 3% year-on-year growth rate, the unemployment rate remains at 3.7%, and the stock market has made a roaring comeback. The numbers look stronger than those of other major advanced economies, such as the eurozone, the United Kingdom, Japan or Canada. However, it is too early for a victory parade. The fight against inflation is not over, monetary policy has long and variable lags and, even in a strong economy, many people are struggling. But, thus far, it is hard to imagine a softer landing than 2023. What’s expected to happen with the economy in 2024? With the usual caveat that even the best predictions have a margin of error, professional forecasters see the economy still growing in 2024, albeit more slowly. The numbers hover around 1.5% for real GDP growth and 4% for the rate of unemployment. 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