Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile: Eating disorders increased by 30% among Chilean adolescents

Increased stress and anguish, isolation, hyper-connectivity to social networks and contact with harmful influencers in stages in which identity is defined are just some of the factors that have contributed to a 30% increase in consultations associated with disorders Chilean adolescents during the pandemic.

Alejandra Espinosa , academic of the UC Nutrition and Dietetics career , explains the importance of improving healthy eating routines at home and in the family, which include all kinds of foods as well as strengthening self-esteem by assessing one’s own characteristics not associated with body image .

According to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases (DSM-5), Eating Disorders (Eating Disorders) are described as eating disorders and food intake, in which eating patterns are established that are associated to significant medical, psychological, social and functional consequences.

Although these disorders were associated with developed countries for many years, they have now been detected in various countries, regardless of the level of development and culture. Likewise, these pictures predominate in adolescent and young women ; however, in recent years there has been an increase in the incidence in men and a general increase in all age groups, appearing at increasingly younger ages.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed eating disorders among the priority mental illnesses for children and adolescents, given the health risk they imply.

The most common eating disorders in adolescence are Anorexia Nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), Binge Eating Disorder, and Other Specified Eating and Eating Disorders (Purge Disorders, Low-frequency and / or Time-Limited Bulimia Nervosa, binge-eating disorder of low frequency and / or limited time, among others) . At the international level, some recent studies refer to the prevalence reported in adolescents for anorexia and bulimia between 1 and 3%, and in Chile a prevalence of 3.8% in adolescents of low socioeconomic status in Santiago.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed eating disorders among the priority mental illnesses for children and adolescents, given the health risk they imply

Alejandra Espinosa explains: “These disorders are multi-causal, influencing genetic, neurocognitive, psychological and environmental factors. And some of the most common risk factors are excessive preoccupation with appearance in the immediate environment, negative body-related conversations (“fat talk”) , body dissatisfaction, a history of dieting, family dysfunction, and sexual abuse during childhood ”. The academic specifies that in Chile, the prevalence of risk of suffering from eating disorders in an adolescent population has shown figures between 7.4% and 12%, with a higher prevalence in women.

Along the same lines, Jorge Álvarez, psychiatrist at the UC Eating Disorders Unit , states: “It would be a mistake to consider eating disorders as a fad, a normal stage of adolescence or a matter of vanity. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, which involve intense emotional suffering for those who suffer from them and which require family support for their recovery “.

During the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in these disorders, around 30%. The foregoing, according to experts, is due to a decrease in protective factors such as interruption of routines, limitation of outdoor activities, which affects eating, sleeping and physical activity patterns and mental well-being.

“We are experiencing the perfect storm so that the figures of eating disorders continue to rise, unless the family tries to cultivate shared spaces, eating times together at the table and avoid long periods of confinement in the rooms” – Alejandra Espinosa, academic of Nutrition and Dietetics career


“Social isolation, exposure to social networks, more information -or misinformation- due to exposure to influencer dedicated to issues of body image or (falsely) healthy lifestyles, contribute to the exacerbation of vulnerability, especially of young people in confinement, with little social contact, and highly insecure about themselves, in terms of their appearance and identity. We are experiencing the perfect storm so that the numbers of eating disorders continue to rise, unless the family tries to cultivate shared spaces, feeding times together at the table and avoid long periods of confinement in the pieces ”, says the nutrition specialist.

Jorge Álvarez states: “There is a belief that eating disorders are chronic, that people who suffer from them will always live with them. However, recovery is possible with adequate treatment, the prognosis being better the earlier the diagnosis and treatment ”.

Alejandra Espinosa assures that the Academy of Eating Disorders has the task of making visible and sensitizing the seriousness of eating disorders and in her last congress a couple of weeks ago she highlighted the relevance of prevention and early screening.

In this context, he adds, “it is very important to be attentive to what happens with our children or close family members. Eating as a family is a good time to investigate and prevent eating disorders, as well as parents being a role model in relation to eating, positive comments regarding body image, neutrality in relation to body weight, having access to various foods , everyone participate in the preparation of food and focus beauty and personal values ​​beyond appearances ”.

Tips from the specialist
Promote positive conversations about body image
Neutralize, question or reject the patterns and prototypes of beauty imposed by society
Accept and not judge the appearance , mainly of the children
Emphasize the importance of the body , as a privileged instrument that allows us to do, feel and enjoy
Encourage participation in activities related to mindfulness and awareness of the body (yoga, exercises of all kinds, meditations)
Focus on skills that each one has and that they perform thanks to the body (painting, dancing, playing instruments, others)
Expand the concept of beauty (not be focused on the physical aspect)
Avoid the use of social networks that are related to the relevance of body image and generate a discussion on the subject , mainly from parents to children.
Be attentive to children’s food needs (appetite / satiety)
Provide structures during the day , without being inflexible
Do not reward or pressure with food (associated with emotions)
Avoid labeling foods “healthy and unhealthy”
Promote the intake of all kinds of food in their proper proportion, avoid the prohibition of food
Seek certain times when the family eats together at the same table
Avoid the habit of family members eating alone in their rooms
Be attentive to changes in atypical behaviors (lack of self-care, long periods of confinement in the bathroom, wakefulness, abusive consumption of any food and drink), significant weight gain or loss
Remember that EDs have physical, mental, social and functional consequences and require the approach of interdisciplinary clinical teams. Consult early with a team of specialists.

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