Eating Disorders & Body Image Issues During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Today

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of eating disorders and body image issues rose dramatically among young people. At Crisis Text Line, we saw this same trend among our own conversations with young texters ages 17 and under. Eating disorders and body image were one of the issues that surged amongst our texters to Crisis Text Line during the COVID-19 pandemic

Eating disorders and body image issues are common, and they can mean very different things, encompassing far more than the commonly known conditions of anorexia and bulimia. Approximately 9% of the U.S. population, or over 28 million people will have an eating disorder during their lifetime, and only about 6% of them are considered medically “underweight.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, eating disorders are defined as “behavioral disorders characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions.” Such disorders include bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and overexercising. 

Even though eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental health issues, they are often diagnosed too late, when they are more dangerous and more difficult to treat. Eating disorders typically develop in adolescence and young adulthood, which makes screening and intervention at an early age a critical part of addressing these issues. (In a recent study, 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls said they wanted to be thinner.) Some young people are at elevated risk; vulnerable populations include youth and young adults experiencing bullying and those with existing mental health disorders, youth who identify as LGBTQ+, girls and women, and competitive athletes. (Nearly nine in ten LGBTQ youth report being dissatisfied with their body, and in a study of Division 1 NCAA athletes, over one-third of female athletes were reported to be at risk for anorexia nervosa.)

Body image issues and eating disorders have increased as conversation topics throughout the pandemic and continue to rise during our conversations with texters. We are here to support those struggling with these complex challenges by sharing resources to seek help or receive treatment. Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7, anonymous and non-judgmental mental health support in English and Spanish. 

For those experiencing emotional distress related to eating disorders, please text ALLIANCE, NEDA or HEALING to 741741 or 443-SUPPORT in WhatsApp to be connected to a live, trained volunteer Crisis Counselor or text HOLA to 741741 or 442-AYUDAME in WhatsApp for Spanish.  

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