Lockdowns linked to rise in eating disorder symptoms

Lockdowns to help tackle the spread of Covid-19 could be linked to an increase in symptoms associated with eating disorders, new research suggests.

The study also found a reduction in exercise addiction symptoms post-lockdown, while levels of individual exercise increased from 6.5 hours per week in 2019 to 7.5 hours per week post-lockdown in 2020.

“We can’t say for certain that Covid-19 is responsible for this increase in behaviour associated with eating disorders,” said researcher Mike Trott, from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

“However, we do know that people often use food as a coping mechanism for stress, and clearly many people have been impacted by stressful events and significant changes over the last 12 months,” Trott added.

For the study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, the team examined the behaviour and attitudes of 319 health club members during the summer of 2020.

The researchers followed up initial research into addictive or unhealthy behaviours, conducted in 2019, to investigate the effects of the first Covid-19 restrictions introduced in the spring of 2020.

Participants, with an average age of 37, completed the eating attitudes test, called EAT-26, which involved answering questions related to statements such as ‘I am terrified about being overweight’, ‘I have the impulse to vomit after meals’, and ‘I feel extremely guilty after eating’.

The researchers found that average EAT-26 scores had significantly increased in 2020, post-lockdown, compared to 2019, suggesting higher levels of morbid eating behaviours such as anorexia and bulimia.