U of M Medical School’s Melissa Simone, PhD, and Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, MPH evaluated former participants of the EAT (Eating and Activity over Time) 2010-2018 study were invited to complete a similar series of tests for the C-EAT (COVID-19 EAT) survey in April-May 2020. In total, there were 720 respondents, who answered questions about psychological distress, stress, stress management, financial difficulties, and food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. The answers to these questions were then used as cross-sectional correlates of disordered eating patterns.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the rapid implementation of public health policies to reduce transmission of the virus. While these protections are necessary, the disruptions to daily life associated with the ongoing pandemic may have significant negative consequences for the risk of eating disorders and symptoms,” Simone, lead author of the study, said. “Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates across all psychiatric health concerns, and therefore, it is important to try to make links between the consequences of the pandemic and disordered eating behaviors.”
The six key themes of eating behavior changes among the study participants were: mindless eating and snacking; increased food consumption; generalized decrease in appetite or dietary intake; eating to cope; pandemic-related reductions in dietary intake; and re-emergence or marked increase in eating disorder symptoms.
Approximately 8% of those studied reported extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors, while 53% had less extreme but unhealthy weight control behaviors, while 14% reported binge eating, the authors of the study said. These outcomes were significantly associated with poor stress management, greater depressive symptoms, and moderate or extreme financial difficulties.
“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,” Neumark-Sztainer, principal investigator of Project EAT, said. “The majority of the young adults in our study are from diverse ethnic/racial and lower income backgrounds, who often do not receive the services they need. To ensure health inequities do not increase, we need to meet the needs of these populations.”
“The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic will likely persist long beyond the dissemination of a vaccine,” Simone added. “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. As such, online or mobile-based interventions may prove to be effective and accessible modes for targeted intervention efforts.”
Mike Montemarano has been the Associate Editor of Nutraceuticals World since February 2020. He can be reached at email@example.com.