The Rise of Eating Disorders in College Students

Eating disorders have increased by 15% in those under the age of 30 since the start of COVID-19, according to The Cavalier Daily, the University of Virginia’s student newspaper in a March 2022 article. Bowling Green State University is experiencing this increase in students seeking help and struggling with eating disorders.

When the pandemic started, everyone was stuck inside their homes. Gyms were closed and healthy groceries were limited. This led to fad diets and workout plans. The world was dealing with a pandemic, but many started to only care about the number on the scale. 

The Cavalier Daily discusses exactly what eating disorders are and how COVID-19 prompted the spike.

“Diet culture and the onset of COVID-19 made balanced and non-restrictive eating habits more difficult for college students,” Emmie Halter, a health-focused journalist from The Cavalier Daily wrote. 

Halter said eating disorders are tied to food rules. Food rules are statements about food that have a positive or negative connotation tied to them. 

“Some examples of food rules include restricting the hours of the day in which you can eat, the elimination of certain food groups from one's diet, such as oil or processed sugar, or participating in fasting outside of a religious context,” Halter said. 

Philip Hughes, a counselor from the BGSU Counseling Center, talked about the going-out culture, involving those that have eating disorders. Hughes is a licensed professional clinical counselor who is aware of students eating less in order to become intoxicated faster. 

“I’ve heard of those things. I know that it happens. I think there can be this competitive edge to eating disorders,” Hughes said. 

Abby McCall, veterinary and biomedical student at Penn State University explained her experience with toxic food culture when it comes to nightlife. 

“One quote that negatively affects my eating disorder is, ‘I’m not going to eat today, because I am going out tonight,’” McCall said. 

McCall and Hughes both note the tactics students use for alcohol consumption or appearance in preparation for a night out. Hughes said there are various reasons why the rise has occurred in college students. 

“I think the rise is lots of different things. I think sometimes dining halls don't necessarily have the best options,” Hughes said. 

Halter, Hughes and McCall all agreed that unrealistic body standards heavily influence impressionable audiences negatively, and social media is a place where that happens often. 

“Studies show that on TikTok, a large social media platform with the majority of its users being in high school or college, over 70 million users have interacted with hashtags relating to eating disorders,” Halter said.

The pandemic may have sparked a notable increase in numbers, but eating disorders appear to be becoming extremely common among college students. 

BGSU Counseling Center provides a resource for students seeking help with mental health or eating disorders. For emergencies or immediate help, go to the national helpline.

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