The number of young people in Japan newly diagnosed with the eating disorder anorexia rose about 60 percent in fiscal 2020 from the previous year, due possibly to increased stress and anxiety amid the coronavirus pandemic, a survey showed.

Despite the uptick in patients, some hospitals saw a lack of beds available for those with serious conditions, as they likely had to give up beds to treat COVID-19 patients, according to the survey released last month by the National Center for Child Health and Development.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that is

File photo shows a high school teacher giving an online lesson in a classroom without students in Tokyo in May 2021. (Kyodo)

characterized by an abnormally low body weight, an obsessive fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight. It can lead to a life-threatening condition or even death.

The survey found 28 boys and 230 girls under 20 years old were newly diagnosed with the eating disorder in fiscal 2020 through March this year, both up over 60 percent from the previous year.

Nine boys and 132 girls were newly hospitalized due to anorexia, up from six and 93, respectively, from the previous year.

The center conducted the survey in two months through the end of June with the help of 26 medical institutions in 19 of the nation's 47 prefectures.

An official of the center attributed the increase in anorexic patients among young people to the coronavirus pandemic, which has disrupted the lives of students at elementary, junior high and high schools.

"Because many schools suspended activities as a measure against the coronavirus, a lot of young people felt a greater level of stress and anxiety," the official said.

The center has also conducted a series of surveys on parents and their children, with many young people expressing worries and discontent over their school life as a result of the pandemic.

A girl in the second grade of a junior high school said in the survey she "wants to live a normal life as soon as possible."

In the same survey, a boy in the fifth grade of an elementary school also said, "Are we going to spend our whole life not going outside and not doing anything? I want to go wherever I want to go and meet whoever I want to meet."

The center said there should be more medical institutions capable of treating patients with eating disorders. It also called on parents and schools to pay attention to any child suffering weight loss and refer them to a hospital before their health condition gets worse.