Eating Disorders Get Needed Recognition on Capitol Hill

It’s an unfortunate truth that eating disorders have been shoved into a box.

Many have believed the falsities that are spread about these disorders: that they’re about looking good and being thin, that those who suffer from them are wealthy and self-centered, and that they are predominantly experienced by white women, according to Eating Disorder Hope, an organization that aims to provide hope, information and resources to those who suffer from such afflictions.

Research into the world of eating disorders has perpetuated those stereotypes by focusing studies on those exact populations, officials at the organization said. Studies involving those of lower socioeconomic status or of various races are few and far between.

As a result, it is incredibly crucial to dispense what little information does exist about the various populations that experience these disorders, such as the African-American community.

Now, Congress has stepped in.

Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania) and G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina) helped to lead introduction of a bipartisan House Resolution to create a congressionally recognized National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

The congressmen said in a joint statement that they worked in December to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which included provisions from the Anna Westin Act, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It represented the first time Congress passed legislation specifically designed to help the millions of Americans suffering from an eating disorder.

“While these measures represent an important first step, more research is needed to train health care professionals, facilitate early intervention treatment, and raise awareness for prevention efforts for those struggling with an eating disorder,” the congressmen said in the statement.

The resolution syncs with the eating disorder community’s more than two-decade tradition of celebrating National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, designating the last week of February as the recognized week.

It’s the largest national campaign that brings public attention to the critical needs of people with eating disorders and their families.

“The goal of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is to shine the spotlight on eating disorders and put life-saving resources into the hands of those in need,” said Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association.

“Education and early intervention are critical in the fight against these deadly illnesses and we hope that this recognition from Congress will help us reach Americans with the information, support and resources they deserve,” Mysko said, adding that the organization thanks Murphy and Butterfield for their support and leadership.

More than 30 million Americans are affected by an eating disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.

Eating disorders are considered serious and complex mental health conditions that affect individuals of all genders, age, body sizes, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic statuses and have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, association officials said.

The resolution crafted by Congress in conjunction with the eating disorders community — which includes the National Eating Disorders Association, Eating Disorders Coalition and the Residential Eating Disorders Consortium — carefully identifies the complexity and needs for the disorder, Mysko said.

The resolution addresses the need for more research, training for health professionals, quality treatment coverage, awareness around often stigmatized communities including the military, high body weight individuals, and minority, racial and ethnic groups.

“The passage of the 21st Century Cures Act was a great step forward for the eating disorders community,” said Dr. S. Bryn Austin, president of the Eating Disorders Coalition and professor of pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “But we have a lot of work ahead in our nation’s health care system to raise awareness and expertise in recognizing and treating eating disorders and to ensure access to the best possible care for all Americans with eating disorders, no matter who they are or where they live.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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