Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions on Depression and Eating Disorders in Pediatric Populations




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The mental health of global youth populations has been a serious topic of concern, especially following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Early research has shown that the global prevalence of adolescent and pediatric mental health episodes has increased following the pandemic; with a 25% increase in depressive symptoms and a 20% increase in anxiety symptoms. It is also known that there is a strong correlation between depression and eating disorders; with each diagnosis increasing the risk of the other. Prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that the lifetime prevalence of eating disorders in adolescents was 2.7%, which was more prevalent among females (3.8%) vs. males (1.5%). Despite these known statistics, minimal research has been performed in the U.S. evaluating eating disorders among pediatric populations following the pandemic. Therefore, given the declining mental health of our youth following COVID-19, it is imperative to consider the development of eating disorders and/or depression in these vulnerable populations.

The purpose of the present study is to explore the presence of eating disorders and depression in pediatric populations following the COVID-19 pandemic, and how these rates differ between males and females.


A literature review was conducted using PubMed and Google Scholar electronic databases. Relevant articles were screened using the following keywords found in either the title or abstract: depression, major depressive disorder, eating disorders, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, adolescence, pediatrics, children, COVID-19, pandemic.

This search was limited to articles with the following criteria: written in English (i) inclusion of adolescents or children as research participants (ii), and research conducted after 2018 (iii). Studies selected based on the above criteria included longitudinal studies, comparative studies, and systematic reviews.


Recent studies have shown an increase in the prevalence of both depression and eating disorders in global youth populations following the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the mandated COVID-19 lockdown, many pediatric populations were isolated from their friends, classmates, and family members. A cross-sectional study in China found that children who were left alone throughout the day without a companion during COVID-19 had higher levels of depressive symptoms (22%) and anxiety (27%) as compared to those who had company throughout the day. The mandated COVID-19 lockdowns have differing affects across gender identity. A longitudinal study of children in Australia found that when compared to their male cohort, females experienced higher levels of generalized anxiety and depressive symptoms as well as lower life satisfaction during the pandemic.


These findings indicate that children, especially females, are at increased risk for depression and eating disorders both during and following the COVID-19 pandemic. Increased rates of depression and other psychological conditions leaves the pediatric and adolescent populations vulnerable to future health and developmental complications later in life and across the life course. At the public policy level, safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that the mental health of children remains protected and a public health priority during future pandemics.