Research has shown increases in disordered eating since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and a 48% average increase in eating disorder related hospitalizations (Devoe et al., 2022). While there is significantly less data on Black Americans with eating disorders, research has linked stress and an increased lack of control around eating among Black women (Goode et al., 2022a). For Black women, the dual pandemics of Covid-19 and systemic racism created a unique set of stressors around health, work environment, and family which affected their eating behaviors.
Challenges faced by Black women during the onset of the dual pandemics were layered and varied. For instance, Black Americans faced disproportionate rates of Covid-19 illness and hospitalization, and those in essential positions had the highest Covid-19 related mortality rate of any demographic (Poteat, 2020; Rodgers et al., 2020). Notably, Black women were overrepresented in essential industries, specifically as nursing assistants, registered nurses, and cashiers (Frye 202). Black women also faced high rates of unemployment, an inadequate social safety net, and disruptions in food availability and accessibility (Aaron, 2020; Bateman & Ross, 2022; Bauer et al., 2021; Fang et al., 2020; Moffit & Ziliak, 2020; Obinna, 2020). While some Black women navigated their essential positions and others were coping with unemployment, these women had to make critical decisions around care for their children and homebound family members (Frye, 2020; Gould & Wilson, 2020). Another salient stressor during this period were the murders of Black Americans, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the resulting protests. One study found that Black women in essential positions discussed difficulties related to managing extreme emotions, wanting to protest but feeling afraid to do so, receiving mixed levels of understanding from colleagues, and experiencing a rise in blatantly racist confrontations in the workplace (Goode et al., 2022b). The identification of these unique and impactful stressors provides insight into the profound risk for disordered eating patterns among Black women.
Research shows that Covid-19 negatively impacted Black women with a history of or at-risk of binge eating disorder. Goode and colleagues (2022a) found that Black women with a history of binge eating experienced an increased lack of control around food. There were four contributing factors to Black women’s lack of control around eating: (1) food serving as a coping strategy; (2) increased eating due to being home; (3) lack of structure and routine; and (4) limited availability of food. Upended schedules and routines, and using food to cope with difficult emotions, including boredom, likely increased episodes of lack of control over food among participants (Goode et al., 2022a). Further, it was noted that depleted grocery store shelves (Chenarides, et al, 2021; Knoll, 2022) and a need for less expensive or nonperishable foods led these women to buy food that was more refined and processed, and higher in fat and sugar content than they typically ate before the Covid-19 pandemic (Goode et al., 2022a).
Covid-19 paired with the broader national awareness of systemic racism created a unique set of stressors for Black women, particularly for those with eating disorders. It is important that as a nation, we take time to understand what Black women faced and how it impacted their health and wellbeing, and subsequent eating behaviors. Given that Covid-19 and its damaging effects are still with us, and future challenges are likely, our social and economic systems will need to continue to change to better support Black women, and especially Black women with eating disorders.
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By Leslie McClellan
Leslie joined Living F.R.E.E Lab in December 2021, after a significant time away from research. She is now working as a research assistant supporting the development of appetite awareness research in the Satisfy Study.