The impacts of COVID-19 on eating disorders and disordered eating: A mixed studies systematic review and implications for healthcare professionals, carers

Why is this research important?

This paper presents a systematic identification and analysis of studies that examine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on eating disorders and disordered eating across the age spectrum. The authors found that people experiencing eating disorders or disordered eating are some of the most vulnerable groups to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, there has been a worsening of symptoms for people experiencing eating disorders and a significant increase in disordered eating behaviours (especially binge eating behaviours) among the general population. It is important for early identifiers of eating disorders (e.g., GPs, teachers, sporting organisations) to be aware of these increases and remain vigilant of such disordered eating behaviours (and their medical and psychological consequences) which may be being used to cope with increased stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. This is vital to early identification and intervention. This paper also highlights the pandemic-induced increased demands on family and supports of people experiencing eating disorders and the need for encouragement and care of these supports.

Authors: Courtney P. McLean, Ranjani Utpala & Gemma Sharp

Abstract/Summary:

Objective: The unique constraints to everyday life brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have been shown to negatively impact those with pre-existing mental health issues such as eating disorders. While individuals with eating disorders or disordered eating behaviours represent a vulnerable group to COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the pandemic is yet to be fully established. As such, we systematically examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours.

Method: We searched electronic databases MEDLINE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and EMBASE for literature published until October 2021. Eligible studies were required to report on individuals with or without a diagnosed eating disorder or disordered eating behaviours who were exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Results: Seventy-two studies met eligibility criteria with the majority supporting an increase in eating disorder or disordered eating behaviours associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, children and adolescents and individuals with a diagnosed eating disorder present a vulnerable group to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discussion: This systematic review provides a timely insight into COVID-19 eating disorder literature and will assist in understanding possible future long-term impacts of the pandemic on eating disorders behaviours. It appears that the role of stress in the development and maintenance of eating disorders was intensified as a means to cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic. Future research is needed among understudied and minority groups and to examine the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours.

Access: Open access

Link: psyarxiv.com/f27y8/

Citation: McLean, C.P, Utpala, R., & Sharp, G. (2021). The impacts of COVID-19 on eating disorders and disordered eating: A mixed studies systematic review and implications for healthcare professionals, carers, and self. 

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