Disordered eating in a population-based sample of young adults during the COVID-19 outbreak

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Abstract

Objective: The present study aimed to describe the experience of, and factors associated with, disordered eating in a population-based sample of emerging adults during the COVID-19 outbreak. Method: Participants in the EAT 2010–2018 (Eating and Activity over Time) study were invited to complete the C-EAT (COVID-19 EAT) survey in April–May 2020. There were 720 respondents to the survey (age: 24.7 ± 2.0 years). Psychological distress, stress, stress management, financial difficulties, and food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic were examined as cross-sectional correlates of disordered eating in 2020. Open-ended questions assessed the perceived impact of the pandemic on eating behaviors. Results: Low stress management was significantly associated with a higher count of extreme unhealthy weight control behaviors (UWCBs). Food insecurity, higher depressive symptoms, and financial difficulties were significantly associated with a higher count of less extreme UWCBs. Higher stress and depressive symptoms were significantly associated with greater odds of binge eating. Six themes pertaining to disordered eating during the pandemic emerged: (a) mindless eating and snacking; (b) increased food consumption; (c) generalized decrease in appetite or dietary intake; (d) eating to cope; (e) pandemic-related reductions in dietary intake; and (f) re-emergence or marked increase in eating disorder symptoms. Discussion: Psychological distress, stress management, financial difficulties, and abrupt schedule changes may have contributed to disordered eating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interventions that target stress management, depressive symptoms, and financial strain and provide tools to develop a routine may be particularly effective for emerging adults at risk of developing disordered eating during public health crises.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Wiley Periodicals LLC.

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • binge eating
  • financial difficulty
  • psychological distress
  • unhealthy weight control
  • young adults

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