Struggles and conflict with body image is just one of the ways coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected our university and community. Thirty million people in the United States suffer from eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, hotline calls are up 70-80% in recent months. Also, according to research done by Dr. Viren Swami, professor at Anglia Ruskin University, on body dissatisfaction caused by COVID-19, the male participants had a greater wish for muscularity in the study. This desire may be attributed to the exercise limitations of the pandemic, which may cause some to use alternate unhealthy ways to lose weight or gain weight. Swami is quoted as saying, “In addition to the impact of the virus itself, our results suggest the pandemic could also be leading to a rise in body image issues. In some cases, these issues can have very serious repercussions, including triggering eating disorders.”
Due to physical distancing, there is a decrease in social support and interaction during these times. This decrease applies to college students, creating isolation, and loneliness. Lack of social support may make dealing with body image and eating disorder concerns harder for people if they use social interaction as a coping mechanism. A survey in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that 62% of people in the U.S. with anorexia experienced a worsening of symptoms and 33% of Americans with binge-eating disorder reported an increase in episodes since the pandemic hit.
Students are at high risk for unhealthy weight management because of the increased social media use as well. Exposure to stressful social media coverage of major disasters has been shown to increase disordered eating. Along with this, exposure to thin/athletic body ideals has shown to increase negative attitudes about one’s body. The Harris Poll found that 46% of U.S. adults were using social media since the outbreak began. Sixty percent of those respondents were aged 18 to 34 and reported increased usage on social networking services (SNS). A statistically significant increase was found in the frequency of use in all studied SNS (Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook) during lockdown. These results suggest that lockdown has had an impact on SNS use, and this may be linked to an increased drive for thinness and eating disorder risk among adolescents and young people.
Unhealthy body image is harmful to any age group, and for college students, it can be destructive. It is essential that available resources be communicated and forwarded to the community. Despite the widespread concern of body image, many students are not aware of all these resources.
At Illinois State University and in Bloomington-Normal, there are many resources that students can use. Redbirds Keep Thriving for one, is open to help students with stress during the pandemic. This includes resources for social, emotional, physical, and financial wellness. Students can also visit Student Counseling Services where psychologists and counselors are available online. Illinois State University also holds virtual events and club meetings where students can feel more connected. The Body Project and More than Muscles are programs that specifically address body image concerns. These are fun, effective, and free programs for both women and men where participants can expect activities and dialogue through peer-led discussion. Students also have the opportunity to earn SONA extra credit for signing up.
If students feel the need to contact other resources outside of Illinois State University, the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE is available, as well as the NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) hotline at (800) 931-2237.