Hospitalizations for eating disorders among young women jumped by more than 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic

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OTTAWA, May 05, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Throughout the pandemic, hospitalizations and visits to emergency departments (EDs) due to eating disorders have surged among young women in Canada. New data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows that the pandemic has taken a significant toll on the mental health of children and youth, with hospitalizations for young women with eating disorders age 10 to 17 increasing by nearly 60% since March 2020. This represents an increase from about 52 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in 2019–2020 to 82 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in 2020–2021 and is in direct contrast to the general decrease in hospitalizations and ED visits for most other conditions among the rest of the population in Canada.

CIHI’s release shows that youth living in less-affluent neighbourhoods had higher rates of ED visits and hospitalizations for mental health disorders than their peers from more-affluent neighbourhoods. However, the opposite trend was observed for youth receiving hospital care for eating disorders, with youth from the most-affluent neighbourhoods hospitalized more than twice as much as their least-affluent peers.

“The increase in hospitalizations for youth due to an eating disorder during the pandemic is striking and concerning. It is also a significant under-representation of the true increase because research shows that eating disorders aren’t just a disease of the affluent,” said Dr. Leanna Isserlin, Psychiatric Director, Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders Program, CHEO, a pediatric health care and research centre in Ottawa. “Many young people from marginalized communities and less-affluent neighbourhoods have difficulty accessing treatment for eating disorders and would not be reflected in these data.”

Marked differences were also observed in the experiences between young women and young men. Young women age 15 to 17 were twice as likely to be hospitalized for a mental health disorder as their male peers.

In addition to an increase in hospital care for eating disorders, CIHI also observed an increase in the rates that young Canadians are dispensed mood and anxiety medication over time. As well, about twice as many females age 5 to 24 were dispensed these medications compared with their male peers in 2020–2021. This is a trend that predates the COVID-19 pandemic and has been consistently observed over the last 5 years.

“There’s no doubt the pandemic has put significant strain on the mental health of all Canadians — including youth. The substantial uptick in hospitalizations for eating disorders we’ve seen in young women emphasizes how critical it is for our health systems to prioritize early interventions and prevention methods in the form of timely access to mental health services,” said Tracy Johnson, Director, Health System Analytics, CIHI.

The findings in this release highlight the wide-reaching consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and youth, and provide insights into the larger mental health picture in Canada.

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About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing essential health information to all Canadians.

CIHI works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.

Health information has become one of society’s most valuable public goods. For more than 25 years, CIHI has set the pace on data privacy, security, accessibility and innovation to improve Canada’s health systems. 

CIHI: Better data. Better decisions. Healthier Canadians.

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