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Montefiore in the News
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Montefiore in the News

September 17, 2020

Leah Campbell Contributor

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Healthcare

Teenage eating disorder

In July of 2020, a new study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) confirmed what many already knew: Covid-19 has contributed to a mental and behavioral health crisis. With one in four parents reporting worsening mental health, and one in seven reporting an increase in behavioral challenges for their children, this is not an isolated problem.

Families everywhere are struggling right now.

But while the study focused on families with young children, in particular, additional research has pointed to the vulnerabilities adolescents are facing right now. To include an increase in post-traumatic stress, depressive and anxiety disorders.

All of which can also be associated with an increase in eating disorder behaviors.  

The Mental Health Impact on Adolescents

Hina J. Talib, MD, is a board-certified adolescent medicine specialist at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore, a top eating disorder center in New York City. Known for her popular Instagram page, TeenHealthDoc, Talib says that one of the things she has noticed since the pandemic began is teenagers experiencing a flare in previously identified mental health conditions as well as the presentation of new mental health conditions.

“In teen health, we are calling this the second-wave of the Covid-19 crisis, and it has already arrived,” Talib recently told Forbes.

She said there are a variety of circumstances contributing to this, to include the loneliness and isolation teenagers are reporting as a result of physical distancing and stay-at-home measures.

“During this time of back-to-school, anticipatory anxiety is running high for students, teachers and families. Teens, especially pre-teens, absorb this stress.”

The Risks Teenagers Face

While we don’t yet have any data connecting an increase in eating disorders to Covid-19, experts believe there is reason to be concerned.

“Eating disorders can be triggered by an attempt to gain control,” Anna M. Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, explained. Lutz is a certified eating disorder registered dietician who co-owns a private practice in Raleigh, NC.

“Right now, all of us, but especially children, have very little control in what we can do,” Lutz said. “Sports seasons, academics as we know them, spring break trips, summer camps and important time with friends have all been canceled—all things that are very important in the lives of teens.”

She said that focusing on weight, exercise and what one allows themselves to eat can be a way of gaining control, particularly in situations where an individual may otherwise feel out of control.

As is the case for so many in the face of our current pandemic.

“Also, there has been a lot of media focus on the potential for weight gain during the Covid--19 pandemic,” Lutz explained. “This message has been directed towards children and can trigger a teen being over-controlled or restrictive with their food.”

While unhealthy, Lutz said that eating disorder behaviors can be coping tools in times of trauma and stress.

“Many people with eating disorders have a history of trauma and the current pandemic situation can trigger this trauma. Isolation, food insecurity (real or perceived), increased time with a family member who may be abusive, grief for what is being lost/missed, and fear about getting sick or your family not having enough money can all trigger an increase in eating disorder symptoms.”