SASKATOON -- A Saskatoon pediatrician is raising a red flag about a trend she’s noticing in her patients.

Dr. Ayisha Kurji has noticed a recent jump in eating disorders among children.

“More and more kids are struggling with eating. Some of them are so unwell that they are ending up in the hospital because of the effects on their heart,” Kurji said.

When a body doesn’t get enough nutrition, it’s forced to conserve energy. As a result, the heart can become weaker. 

“It can actually pump so slow and the worry is that it would stop. That's when we get very medically concerned,” Kurji told CTV News. 

The pediatrician said she’s seen eating disorders most prevalent in kids around 15-years-old. She’s linking the increase to the pandemic. 

Kurji said increased isolation, school routine disruption and more social media exposure can fuel unhealthy eating. 

“It’s devastating, heartbreaking to see how many children are suffering and need help, and we’re struggling to offer it,” Kurji said. 

“We’re trying to keep up with the resources, but how do you do that when numbers have changed so much in such a short time.”

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) has seen anonymous helpline chat requests more than double during the pandemic, compared to the same time frame a year prior.

“We’re worried about the lack of support that exists for people after they call us,”said Ary Maharaj, an outreach and education coordinator at NEDIC.

“We’re just the helpline. We exist to connect people to care in their local community, and if we don't have care to refer people to, they're kind of left stuck.” 

Kurji said resources have been squeezed as more people seek mental health support amid the pandemic. 

“We are seeing the mental health impact on our beds for sure,” Kurji said. 

“There are more kids at the Dubé Centre …. We definitely have kids who are sitting at the JPCH [Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital], waiting for beds.”

Dietitian Alison Friesen has seen an increase in clients both under-eating and over-eating.

“I see lots of clients turning to food for comfort, or feeling like, ‘I can control this, so I’m going to try and control it as much as I can because everything else is out of control,’” Friesen said. 

“We are seeing some new eating disorders, also people that feel like they're slipping back into some old habits — just a lot of guilt, shame and unhealthy food relationships.”

Tips to mitigate unhealthy eating behaviours in kids: Kurji

  • Ensure meals are eaten together, and not alone.
  • Be cautious of how you speak about your body in front of your child. Constantly obsessing over the need to lose weight may make your child feel they should do the same.
  • Remind your child meals are not just about calories, but are meant to be enjoyed and bring people together.
  • If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, don’t wait. Make an appointment with a physician right away.