Pediatrician says eating disorders on the rise among Saskatoon teens and children

Dr. Ayisha Kurji, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Saskatchewan, says a year-long study she is leading has found that eating disorders have become more prevalent in Saskatoon children and teenagers since the pandemic started.

More outpatient referrals and hospital admissions since beginning of pandemic, says Dr. Ayisha Kurji

Saskatoon pediatrician Dr. Ayisha Kurji is examining eating disorders in children and teenagers. (Don Somers/CBC)

A Saskatoon pediatrician says a year-long study she is leading has found that eating disorders have become more prevalent in Saskatoon children and teenagers since the pandemic started.

Dr. Ayisha Kurji, a consultant pediatrician in Saskatoon, said there has been a dramatic increase in hospitalizations and a 30 per cent increase in outpatient referrals related to eating disorders for youth during the pandemic.

Her study hasn't been published yet, but she shared some early details about the findings with CBC.

Kurji said it became clear early in the pandemic that eating disorders were on the rise among young people. 

"For us, the biggest thing we've noticed was how many kids were coming into the hospital because they were so medically unstable from their eating disorder," she said. 

"We thought this was not normal. This is very different, what's going on?"

Kurji said she's seen kids as young as 11 and 12 hospitalized due to an eating disorder. 

LISTEN | Dr. Ayisha Kurji spoke with host Leisha Grebinski on Saskatoon Morning 
Would you know if someone in your life had an eating disorder? A local pediatrician says myths associated with this psychiatric illness are making it hard for people to get the help they need. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks with Dr. Ayisha Kurji.

Kurji said one reason for the increase during the pandemic is children losing their routines due to not having to go to school. Other reasons include children losing outlets that they used to cope with, such as spending time with friends. 

Kurji said people may also be spending more time on social media. 

"We know that there's a link there as well with eating disorders and risks that way," she said. 

Kurji said there are myths associated with eating disorders, one of them being that eating disorders are only mental health issues. 

"They can have devastating effects on your physical health," she said.

Kurji said anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality of any psychiatric illness — some from suicide and some from heart damage. 

She said when the body isn't getting enough nutrition from food, it takes it from the body, from fat and muscle. She said that includes the heart muscle.

"Eventually that heart can become so weak that it goes so slow that it might stop," she said. 

Kurji said parents should look out for changes in their kids' eating behaviours. That can include no longer eating a big food group and being very rigid on what they are allowed to eat. 

Other signs include eating alone instead of with other people, and changing how they eat — breaking off pieces instead of taking a bite, for example.

She said if you suspect someone is suffering from an eating disorder, the best thing that could be done is to get them help as soon as possible. One great step would be to get them in touch with their family doctor. 

With files from Saskatoon Morning


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?