Nov 15, 2023 - Health

Eating disorders skewed younger during the pandemic

Share of anorexia patients by age group
Data: FAIR Health; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

The demographics of eating disorders are shifting younger, now most commonly affecting teens between 14 and 18 years old, according to a new analysis.

Why it matters: The data, based on a FAIR Health repository of 43 billion private health insurance claims, sheds new light on an uptick in eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among teens.

By the numbers: From 2018 to 2022, insurance claims for eating disorder treatment increased 65%, with the largest increase occurring during the pandemic's first year.

  • In 2018, the largest share of patients being treated for eating disorders were 19-24 years old (25%), followed by patients ages 14 to 18 (21%).
  • By 2022, those groups had flipped. The largest share (28%) was among patients 14 to 18, followed by the 19-24 group (23%).

Between the lines: The shift comes amid a youth mental health crisis that experts say has been exacerbated by the pandemic's isolation and social media.

  • Those receiving treatment for an eating disorder were also five times as likely to have another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, compared to other patients, according to the FAIR Health report.
  • They were more than four times more likely to have a substance use disorder.
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