Hospital admissions due to eating disorders have increased by 66%, according to a new study.
The research, published in the, states that distress and anxiety relating to the Covid-19 pandemic are likely to have played a role in the increase.
The report says the pandemic can challenge good inter-professional collaboration, which is essential in managing eating disorders.
The increase for 2020 is compared to last year.
The authors of the piece, Elizabeth Barrett and Sarah Richardson of Temple Street Children’s University Hospital and the UCD School of Medicine, recently presented data at the Irish Paediatric Association annual conference that showed a 25% increase in patient admissions between March and September 2020, compared to the same timeframe in 2019.
They found that 40% of those admissions were male, which they say is “considerably higher to any previous year”.
The report added: “The children admitted had lower median BMI than in 2019. This is in the context of a reduction in overall admissions to the hospital during the pandemic.
The report says acute hospital admission “supports medical stabilisation, initiation of weight restoration and psycho-education”.
The report adds that “distress, anxiety relating to the pandemic, pre-existing morbidity, the interplay of social and economic factors, the impact of restriction, and losses of protective factors, all likely play a role” in the rise in people presenting with eating disorders.
“Pandemic experiences may exacerbate stressors and diminish coping strategies,” the authors say, adding ”social restrictions may mean some young people are less able to engage with protective factors.
“More online time for example, may facilitate increased exposure to ED-specific or anxiety-provoking media.
“There may be an impact on young people’s view of their own health and may increase ED symptoms specifically related to health concerns.”
In a post-pandemic world, the authors say the “implementation of the National Eating Disorder programme, with specialist community-based teams offering a range of interventions with crucial and critical mass of experience, would be a good start”.
They also say that “the national programmes and the Paediatric Models of Care recognise gaps in transition, and needs for adolescent health and mental health education, training and research”.
The authors say the “advent of a new paediatric hospital is an opportunity to reflect on these needs”.
They add that “given the recognised knowledge gap in this arena, there is recognition of the need for paediatricians and allied health professionals to develop skills in mental health”.
Citing a survey of paediatric trainees in Ireland, it found that 84% of those who replied reported being involved in the management of a child with a mental health disorder in 2019.
Only 8% of trainees felt well prepared in dealing with child and adolescent mental health, with 64% of trainees also expressing a lack of support in dealing with presentations to their local hospital.
All respondents expressed interest in having more educational and training opportunities for mental health disorders introduced as part of their paediatric training.
The authors conclude by stating: “Perhaps the pandemic, and new ways of working, present an opportunity to develop truly collaborative working relationships, and new ways to meet training and teaching needs to improve Paediatric Eating Disorder Care.”