Reviewer: Dr Abid
World Health Organization has declared Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) a pandemic since early 2020; different strategies regarding public health were adopted and necessary COVID-19 related restrictions were mandated to slow down the spread of this unknown disease throughout the globe. Health experts have noticed that the pandemic has adversely impacted both the physical and mental health of children and adolescents worldwide
Recently, researchers from Canada have conducted studies to assess the incidence and severity of newly diagnosed anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa in youth before and during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is newly diagnosed anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa?
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder. Eating disorders are psychological or mental health conditions; individuals suffering through eating disorders usually have an intense fear of gaining weight and abnormal or disturbed eating habits and could be extremely underweight. Anorexia nervosa usually develops in young adults or during adolescence and is more common among women. Though eating disorders are treatable, and if not addressed properly could lead to serious health consequences.
Experts suggest that eating disorders might be caused by factors such as brain biology, genetics, cultural influences and personality traits.
Moreover, atypical anorexia nervosa or newly diagnosed anorexia nervosa refers to a condition in which the patients experience intense fear of weight gain and resulting in behavioral changes of extreme restrictions of food and caloric intake but the patient does not have very low body weight or extreme weight loss.
Details of the studies
The Canadian researchers designed studies to explore whether the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with a change in the incidence and hospitalization rates for new-onset or atypical anorexia nervosa among youth.
The participants of the studies were 1883 children and adolescents of ages between 9 to 18 years (average age 15.9 years; female participants 91.0%) with newly diagnosed anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa.
The studies analyzed new eating disorders assessments that were conducted at 6 pediatric (children) tertiary-care hospitals in Canada, between January 1, 2015 and November 30, 2020.
Findings and conclusions of the study
This study which included children and adolescents with newly diagnosed anorexia nervosa or atypical anorexia nervosa, showed that the incidence of the disease increased from 24.5 to 40.6 cases per month and hospitalizations among these patients increased from 7.5 to 20.0 per month.
Moreover, during the first wave of the pandemic the onset of illness was more rapid and disease severity was greater at presentation than before the pandemic.
However, research is needed to develop a better understanding of the drivers and prognosis (or the progression of the disease) for these patients. Thus, to prepare for their mental health needs in the event of future pandemics or prolonged social isolation.
Trends in the Incidence of New-Onset Anorexia Nervosa and Atypical Anorexia Nervosa Among Youth During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Canada