Young people “developing eating disorders” during Covid-19 lockdown, study reveals

Young people may be developing eating disorders to cope with the Covid-19 lockdown, a major study has revealed.

The research, published by University College London, Imperial College, and the University of Sussex, adds to the growing body of evidence pointing to a long-term mental health crisis as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the study, some six in 10 young people with pre-existing mental health issues and four in 10 without a history of mental illness reported higher levels of stress throughout the pandemic.

Around half of the participants, aged between 16 and 24 years old, also reported higher levels of depression, and a third reported moderate to severe levels of anxiety.

And as a direct result, around half of young people are turning to food to cope with their low mood. This rises to six in 10 among young people with depression or anxiety symptoms.

According to experts, many people use food as a coping mechanism to deal with feelings of stress, boredom or anxiety. But persistent binge eating does not address the original problem and can result in weight gain and image problems.

Commenting on the study, author Lee Hudson said: “I’m particularly concerned about the number of young people in our study who have reported overeating as a way of coping with their low moods during lockdown.

“This is really worrying because our study has also shown that many young people receiving mental health care have reported disruption to their services; this can have serious long-term impacts.”

The study comes shortly after a nationwide survey found that some 80 per cent of teenagers and young adults believe that the Covid-19 lockdown has negatively impacted their mental health.

“In the last few months, young people with mental health problems have struggled to cope with social isolation, anxiety and fears about their future,” said Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, who published the survey.

“Some have been through bereavement or other traumatic experiences, while groups who were already disadvantaged are now likely to become more so. For young people who have adjusted comparatively well during lockdown, the return to ‘normal’ life may bring its own pressures.”

The latest figures suggest that around one in four people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year, with the most common illnesses being anxiety and depression.

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