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Covid-19 lockdowns may be linked to rise in eating disorder symptoms, Anglia Ruskin University research finds



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Covid-19 lockdowns could be linked to an increase in symptoms associated with eating disorders, according to research from Anglia Ruskin University.

A study of 319 health club members last summer investigated the effects of the first lockdown by asking them to complete an eating attitudes test, called EAT-26.

Practioners have been urged to be aware of the possible impact of lockdowns on those with eating disorders (45306493)
Practioners have been urged to be aware of the possible impact of lockdowns on those with eating disorders (45306493)

It asked them questions relating to statements such as ‘I am terrified about being overweight’ and ‘I have the impulse to vomit after meals’.

The scores significantly increased post-lockdown compared to when the test was first carried out in 2019, suggesting higher levels of morbid eating behaviours such as anorexia and bulimia.

The study also found a reduction in exercise addiction symptoms post-lockdown. Exercise levels had increased from 6.5 hours per week in 2019 to 7.5 hours post-lockdown.

Mike Trott, a PhD researcher in sport science at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “It is known that those with eating disorders are more likely to display addictive personality and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. We are also aware that having an unhealthy relationship with food often means an increased amount of exercising, but this is the first time that a risk factor has been calculated.

“It is not uncommon to want to improve our lifestyles by eating healthier and doing more exercise, particularly at the start of the year. However, it is important to moderate this behaviour and not fall victim to ‘crash diets’ or anything that eliminates certain foods entirely, as these can easily lead to eating disorders.

“Our study shows that displaying signs of an eating disorder significantly increases the chance of an unhealthy relationship with exercise, and this can have negative consequences, including mental health issues and injury.

“Health professionals working with people with eating disorders should consider monitoring exercise levels as a priority, as this group have been shown to suffer from serious medical conditions as a result of excessive exercise, such as fractures, increased rates of cardiovascular disease in younger patients, and increased overall mortality.”

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