University of Toronto research has linked vaping to heightened eating disorder risk among college students in the United States, as both use of e-cigarettes and eating disorders increase among young people.
A study peer reviewed and published in Eating Behaviours found that e-cigarette use is associated with a heighted risk of developing an eating disorder among United States college students, reports the University of Toronto.
The finding is particularly important given the common use of vape pens and e-cigarettes and an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic among young people.
The study, which analysed a sample of more than 51,000 US college students who participated in the 2018-2019 Healthy Minds Study, highlights the need for more research and clinical assessment and intervention for those who exhibit both substance use and eating disorders.
“The higher prevalence of vaping among those with eating disorder symptoms is concerning given that the co-occurrence of these behaviours can exacerbate physical health complications such as cardiovascular, pulmonary and neurological problems,” says lead author Dr Kyle T Ganson, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
The researchers also found that participants who reported receiving an eating disorder diagnosis, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, over the course of their life had a higher prevalence of vaping or e-cigarette use.
Additionally, among those who reported vaping or e-cigarette use, nicotine vaping was the most common to have been recently used among participants with and without eating disorder symptoms.
“Nicotine vaping may be used by individuals to support eating disorder behaviours and goals, such as suppressing appetite and catalysing weight loss,” says Ganson. “Nicotine vaping can lead to dependence and future polysubstance use.”
“The study’s findings are especially relevant as we have seen a surge in referrals for eating disorders and substance use disorders during the pandemic,” says co-author Dr Jason M Nagata, assistant professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
“Young people who are struggling with their eating or substance use should seek help from a health professional. Clinicians should screen young people for disordered eating and substance use, especially during the pandemic.”
The researchers emphasise the need for further clinical assessment of eating disorders among college students who report vaping or e-cigarette use, as well as additional federal and state regulation of vape pens and e-cigarettes to protect the health and well-being of young people.
Associations between vaping and eating disorder diagnosis and risk among college students
Kyle T Ganson and Jason M Nagata
Author affiliations: Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto; and Department of Paediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.
Published online by Eating Behaviours on 11 September 2021.
Vaping is common among college-age young adults. Preliminary research has shown associations between vaping and eating disorder symptoms, however, there remain gaps in this knowledge among college students.
The aim of this study was to determine the associations between vaping and a self-reported lifetime eating disorder diagnosis and eating disorder risk among a large sample of college students. Cross-sectional data from the 2018-2019 national (US) Healthy Minds Study (n = 51,231) were analysed.
Multiple logistic regression analyses were conducted to determine the unadjusted and adjusted associations between vaping or e-cigarette use in the past 30 days and a self-reported lifetime eating disorder diagnosis (any diagnosis, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder) and eating disorder risk (SCOFF).
Among the sample, 19.0% of participants reported vaping or e-cigarette use in the past 30 days, 3.7% self-reported any lifetime eating disorder diagnosis, and 25.0% were at elevated risk for an eating disorder.
Vaping or e-cigarette use was associated with higher odds of all eating disorder measures, including the self-reported lifetime eating disorder diagnosis items (any diagnosis, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge-eating disorder) and elevated eating disorder risk, while adjusting for demographic and confounding variables.
Among a large sample of college students, vaping or e-cigarette use was associated with a self-reported lifetime eating disorder diagnosis and elevated eating disorder risk, which may exacerbate the many medical complications associated with eating disorder behaviours.
Clinical professionals should screen for eating disorder behaviors among college students who report vaping or e-cigarette use to monitor symptoms and medical complications.
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