The coronavirus pandemic has brought significant challenges for people with eating disorders, a new study finds.
During the early stages of the pandemic lockdown in the United Kingdom, researchers at Northumbria University in Newcastle surveyed people who currently had an eating disorder or were recovering from one.
In all, 87% of the survey respondents said their symptoms had worsened due to lockdown-related disruptions to daily life, and more than 30% said their symptoms were much worse.
Harmful mental health impacts included a reduced sense of control, increased social isolation, more thoughts about disordered eating and lack of social support, according to the report published online Aug. 24 in the Journal of Eating Disorders.
The negative effects of the pandemic may be due to changes in regular routine, living situation, time spent with friends and family, access to treatment, physical activity, relationship with food and use of technology, according to study authors Dawn Branley-Bell and Catherine Talbot.
Care disruptions were a major issue among survey participants. Some said they were prematurely discharged from inpatient units, had treatment suspended or remained on a waiting list for treatment. Some said they received limited support after being diagnosed with an eating disorder.
As a result, some participants said they felt like a "burden" and "forgotten" by the U.K. government and the National Health Service (NHS), the study authors noted in a university news release.
About 1.25 million people in the United Kingdom have an eating disorder (such as anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder), according to the national charity Beat. Little was known before about how the pandemic has affected these patients, the researchers said.
Experts have called for research into the pandemic's mental health consequences for vulnerable groups, such as older people and those with serious mental health conditions, including eating disorders.
The study authors said the findings may raise awareness and help guide care during the pandemic for people with eating disorders.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on eating disorders.