Thanks to newly passed legislation, the nearly 30 million people suffering from eating disorders in U.S. will have greater access to specialized health care.
The 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress at the end of November, expressly includes enhanced training for professionals for early identification of eating disorders and advanced treatment options, and prevents the exclusion of specific treatments from insurance policies.
“The training of health professionals in early recognition of eating disorders will save lives,” said Jillian Lampert, PhD, RD, MPH, FAED, Chief Strategy Officer of The Emily Program. “All too often, we hear from clients and families that health professionals didn’t intervene early enough, did not recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders, and didn’t know what to do when they did. Health professionals simply need more training. They don’t get adequate training on eating disorders in school or professional trainings, but this bill will change that.”
The act — the first in U.S. history to specifically address eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia — also foresees additional measures to help the public recognize early symptoms.
“No longer will families have to suffer the death of a child because they couldn’t access quality care,” said Kitty Westin, board member of The Emily Program Foundation, in a press release. “Our family is so thrilled that after 16 years, we can celebrate changes to the law that will help dramatically decrease the likelihood that other families will experience the pain and suffering our family experienced.”
Ms. Westlin lost her daughter, Anna, to anorexia after a five-year struggle with the illness. Anna, who developed anorexia when she was 16, seemed initially to have overcome the disease. But she relapsed during her sophomore year of college and eventually committed suicide when she was 21 years old.
Anna’s family funded The Anna Westin Foundation to help others dealing with eating disorders, and later merged with the Emily Program Foundation, an organization with the goal of “being a catalyst in shaping new, informed conversations through advocacy, social outreach, and collaboration with community partners.”
Together, they advocated for amendments to the 21st Century Cures Act, which will be become law if President Obama signs the act.
Eating disorders are among the most dangerous mental illnesses, and affect men and women, young and adult alike, according to data published by the Eating Disorder Coalition.
Sadly, only about one in 10 Americans with an eating disorder is currently receiving treatment. Victims often feel isolated and helpless, and families often feel powerless to help.
The 21st Century Cures Act, which includes parts from an earlier proposal called the Anna Westin Act, should fill the gap so that people like Anna and their families will get the medical, insurance and social support they need.