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Advocating for Eating Disorder Prevention

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Every 62 minutes someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder, and that could have easily been me. When I was growing up, I believed being smaller meant being better. There was nobody to tell me that’s wrong. Diet culture runs rampant through this country and contributes to eating disorders. I have been trying to recover since I was 20, and it has not been easy. Early intervention, education, and more accessible treatment options are necessary for people with any mental health issue. That is why we need funding and research.

Striving for Change in Washington

Isabella Paola, second from left, and Sarah Wilson, far right, advocated for eating disorder prevention in Washington, D.C. last month.

On Friday, February 28th, Sarah Wilson – a friend and colleague- and I met with Ashley Meyer, Director of Government and Business Relations for Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger III has served as the U.S. Representative for Maryland’s 2nd congressional district since 2003.

We met to discuss the Eating Disorder Prevention in Schools Act of 2019. This bill would require schools across the country to include eating disorders prevention education as part of their Local School Wellness Policy. Currently, schools’ policies must educate students on obesity prevention, nutrition, and physical activity. 

As many of us know, a narrow focus on obesity prevention education can have a negative impact on students who are affected by disordered eating behaviors or eating disorders. This bill would fill an important gap in current curriculum, by requiring any education efforts around food and nutrition to include eating disorders prevention and encourage eating disorders screening, regardless of weight status. 

We also discussed FY2021 Spending Bill Request for Increased Eating Disorders Research Funding. The National Institute of Health (NIH), the US government agency in charge of all public health research, substantially underfunds eating disorders research. Increased funding for eating disorders research through NIH would greatly help improve prevention and treatment efforts related to eating disorders, which affect the lives of millions of Americans from all different backgrounds. 

How Eating Disorders Have Impacted Us

We had the opportunity to share about how eating disorders, self esteem and body image issues have affected us throughout life, and the fact that we are not alone. Eating disorders affect 30 million people a year, and have the second highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, behind opiate addiction and overdose.

“Mental health issues present themselves in so many different ways, and they need to be talked about,” Sarah said. “I suffered in silence and felt alone for so many years because I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I was scared. The only way to educate one another and break the stigma is to speak out. My hope is for everyone to know they aren’t alone and that they have the ability to feel better.” 

At this time eating disorders only receive 32.3 million dollars in funding through the National Institute of health, making them one of the least funded mental illnesses through NIH. 

Eating Disorders in Adolescents

Eating disorders are associated with medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, hepatitis, ruptured esophagus, hypoglycemic seizures and gallbladder disease.

As for schools- disordered eating affects 1 million adolescents annually. While many schools discuss the importance of nutrition and health, this information often stigmatizes adolescents in larger bodies. 80% of those affected with eating disorders in adolescence are in bodies at higher weights. 

Meyer offered assistance through the NIH funding and shared that she would gladly speak to Rep. Ruppersburger about signing on to the federal bill for the Eating Disorders Prevention Act of 2019. 

Isabella has been an advocate for mental health and eating disorders through efforts with NEDA and Talking Saves Lives. She works as a case manager for Foundations Recovery Center. Isabella has a blog which can be found at http://lifeastoldbyizzy.wordpress.com

Sarah works for Amatus Recovery Centers and has been an advocate for NAMI and NEDA. Sarah has a blog which can be found at http://nomorestigmadotblog.wordpress.com