CDC: Children’s ER visits for eating disorders, self-harm spike during pandemic

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Emergency room visits related to eating disorders among adolescents doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with pre-pandemic levels, data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Emergency room visits related to eating disorders among adolescents doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to pre-pandemic levels, data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed.

Similarly, trips to the ER due to injuries caused by “self-harm” among people ages 12 to 17 years rose by 50% or more over 2019 figures in each of the three years impacted by the pandemic, 2020, 2021 and 2022, the data showed.

Visits related to symptoms of mental health disorders in this age group increased by up to 60% over the same period, while those related to drug poisonings, or overdoses, spiked by up to 70%, the agency said.

These increases occurred despite an overall decline in ER visits among children and teens age 17 years and younger nationally since the start of the pandemic, it said.

Pediatric ER visits dropped by 51% in 2020, 22% in 2021 and 23% in January of this year, compared with 2019 levels, according to the CDC.

“Although there was some variation by pandemic year, increases in visits with certain injuries … are consistent with reports of increased [drug] overdose and violence outcomes during the pandemic,” the CDC researchers wrote.

“Factors affecting caregivers, including unavailable or unpredictable childcare, illness, financial hardship, and mental health concerns, might increase children and adolescents’ vulnerabilities,” they said.

Among children age 4 years and younger, ER visits related to marijuana consumption — accidental or otherwise — more than tripled between March 2020 and January of this year, compared with 2019 levels, according to the CDC.

Over the same period, ER visits due to firearm injuries among children in this age group increased four-fold, the agency said.

Children ages 5 to 11 years also saw ER visits related to marijuana consumption triple during the pandemic, while firearm injury visits doubled, it said.

ER visits related to self-harm injuries in this age group increased by up to 60% between 2020 and early 2022, compared with pre-pandemic levels, the data showed.

“Children and adolescents’ loss of parents or other caregivers, increases in other adversities and disruptions in daily routine because of the COVID-19 pandemic might also increase [their] behavioral health concerns and unhealthy coping behaviors,” the CDC researchers wrote.

“Strengthening supports to reduce family stress, enhancing access to services and resources, safe storage of firearms … and limiting accessibility to drugs … can help address these factors,” they said.

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