KEY POINTS

  • Researchers looked at link between vaping and eating disorder diagnosis
  • Vaping was associated with higher odds of eating disorder diagnosis and risk
  • "Co-occurrence" of vape use and eating disorders is "concerning" : Researchers

How can vaping affect young people's health? In a new study involving college students, researchers have found a link between vaping and the risk of developing eating disorders.

Vaping is quite common among college-aged people, the researchers of the new study, published in the journal Eating Behaviors, said. Though there has been evidence of an association between vaping and eating disorders, "there remain gaps in this knowledge among college students," the researchers noted.

For their study, the researchers looked at data from about 51,000 college students in the U.S. who were a part of the 2018-2019 Healthy Minds Study, the University of Toronto noted in a news release. Among the participants, 19% reported using vapes or e-cigarettes in the last 30 days, 3.7% self-reported any lifetime eating disorder diagnosis and 25% were deemed to have an "elevated risk" for an eating disorder. Such afflictions included anorexia nervosa, binge-eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.

"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," the researchers wrote in their study.

"The higher prevalence of vaping among those with eating disorder symptoms is concerning given that the co-occurrence of these behaviors can exacerbate physical health complications such as cardiovascular, pulmonary, and neurological problems," study lead author Kyle Y. Ganson, Ph.D., MSW from the University of Toronto noted in the news release.

The researchers also found that those who reported having an eating disorder diagnosis also had a higher prevalence of using vapes or e-cigarettes, the university noted. Moreover, nicotine vapes were said to be the most commonly used among the students who vaped or used e-cigarettes, prompting concerns about possible dependence.

"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," study co-author Jason M. Nagata M.D., MSc of the University of California, San Francisco, said in the news release.

In July, for instance, social media site Pinterest banned content with weight loss language and imagery after data from the National Eating Disorders Association showed a "steep rise" in eating disorders and unhealthy eating habits among young people since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

"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," Nagata said.

Vaping A woman exhales vapor from an electronic cigarette at The Vapor Spot vapor bar in Los Angeles, California, March 4, 2014. Photo: REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni