Research from the InsideOut Institute found that 88% of study participants experienced an increase in body image issues, while 74% increased their dietary restrictions and diets.
The research involved 1,723 people with symptoms of eating disorders studied during the first major wave of COVID-19 in 2020.
The research also found that 66% of participants increased their binge eating, 49% over-exercised, and 25% increased their involvement in self-induced vomiting.
Mental Health Commission CEO Christine Morgan said there had been “an explosion in eating disorders”.
“And most worrying about early eating disorders, our little people get them much earlier,” she said.
“The estimate we worked on a few years ago that over a million Australians have eating disorders, but not a million are diagnosed or treated.
“I actually believe that number has increased significantly…we’re talking well over a million Australians.”
Lead researcher Dr Jane Miskovic-Wheatley said the increase in these symptoms was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning change in daily routines, lack of access to treatment and support , and exposure to media coverage and social media.
“The public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while necessary, has had a detrimental impact on the mental health of people with an eating disorder,” Dr Miskovic-Wheatley said.
“I don’t want us to underestimate the long-term impacts for people with eating disorders – it’s something we’re currently investigating.”
The rise in the prevalence of eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted today’s announcement of $13 million in federal government funding for a new national search.
Thanks to a partnership between the InsideOut Institute and the University of Sydney, a first Australian research center will be created.
The center will coordinate a national approach to research into eating disorders and put the findings into practice in the treatment of Australians with eating disorders.
Ms Morgan said it was an “exciting announcement” and would be a “game changer”.
“Critically, it also involves lived experience and we know it has been a game changer in understanding eating disorders and what is needed to treat them,” she said.
The center will pioneer research and translate it into treatment options, changes in clinical practice, prevention and sustainable recovery.
“In 2022 we still have Australians who are undiagnosed and therefore untreated,” Ms Morgan said.
“One day we can prevent these disorders and translated research will get us there.”
The government has already allocated $110 million for Medicare-subsidized eating disorder treatment.
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