National Conference Aims to Increase Awareness of Eating Disorders

By Mary K. Stein, Managing Editor
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February 2004 Volume 15, Number 1
©2004 Gürze Books

A national conference held in Washington, DC, in mid-April will attempt to increase awareness of eating disorders by creating a national agenda on eating disorders.

The conference, “Creating a National Eating Disorders Agenda: Integrating Research, Policy & Practice,” to be held April 15-16 at the Holiday Inn—Washington, DC on the Hill, will enable participants to create recommendations for national public policies to meet the challenges posed by eating disorders. Dr. David Herzog, head of the Harvard Eating Disorders Center, Boston, and program committee chairman and president of the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action (EDC), said one goal of the conference is to create a national dialog on policy recommendations by addressing eating disorders as a true public health concern.

Mark Herron, Executive Director of the EDC, said that the conference will bring together experts from the eating disorders community and numerous groups who often lobby for mental health, in addition to federal legislators and policy groups.

The conference is sponsored by the EDC, which is headquartered in Washington, DC. This group’s mission is to educate Congress and the federal government about the growing public health threat posed by eating disorders. One example is their sponsorship of periodic Congressional Briefings in the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. For example, last December Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-Me) were co-sponsors for a briefing, “American Realities: The Changing Face of Eating Disorders.” At this briefing, speakers representing non-stereotypical client populations made the point that eating disorders affect a wide variety of Americans, young and old, male and female, and affect all ethnic groups. Other briefings have focused on inadequate insurance, lack of access to care, and the role of Congress in preventing eating disorders. Members include a broad representation from organizations such as the National Eating Disorders Association, the Anna Westin Foundation, Dads and Daughters, the National Eating Disorders Association, the Renfrew Center, and Remuda Ranch

Awards Dinner and Program

On April 15, a special awards dinner will recognize leaders in eating disorders prevention and education, research, treatment, and public policy. On April 16, plenary a three-track half-day program will offer plenary sessions and presentations highlighting research, treatment, education and prevention, as well as public policy. The conference will offer three tracks—research, treatment, and prevention and education, and is open to anyone with an interest in eating disorders is invited to attend.

Candlelight Vigil

On Saturday, April 17, the annual candlelight vigil, “Voices Not Bodies,” for eating disorders awareness will be held near the Capitol reflecting pool. From 4 pm to 7 pm that day, the program will feature a 30-minute body movement workshop with audience participation. Another presentation will be The Thin Line, a 30-minute story of one girl’s struggle with her eating disorder and the struggles of those close to her to understand and to help. A second feature is the Mind/Body Dialogues, based on the principles of self-exploration, revelation, and outspokenness. This play is loosely based on the format of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensley. The Mind/Body Dialogues examines relationship that people from a wide cross-section of backgrounds have with their bodies. The Dialogues was written by Jennifer Campbell and Jessica Cunningham of the Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association, Inc.

Evening Guest Speaker

That evening, Jessica Weiner, speaker, performer, and author, will be the featured speaker. Weiner is author of A Very Hungry Girl, and founder of the ACT OUT Ensemble, a national touring theatre company based in Indianapolis. Her social action plays have covered such topics as eating disorders, relationships, school violence, date rape, and hate crimes.

Better Insurance Coverage a Goal

Even as more effective treatments are being uncovered for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, clinicians, patients, and their families are finding insurance coverage to be limited. One of the policy priorities of the EDC is to urge Congress to pass legislation that would mandate appropriate coverage for these serious conditions. Data show that health insurers provide an average of 10 to 15 sessions for people with eating disorders when at least 40 may be needed. A study by Dr. Ruth Striegel-Moore and colleagues found that the incidence of patients given an eating disorder diagnosis was only about one-tenth of that seen in samples of the general public. This suggested that many people who need treatment aren’t getting it, according to Dr. Striegel-Moore (Int J Eat Disord 2000; 27:381). The researchers also found that the average length of treatment provided, 26 inpatient and 16 outpatient—days per year for anorexia nervosa and 12 days for bulimia nervosa, was much lower than that recommended by the American Psychiatric Association.

To address the gaps in treatment, the Coalition is working to pass the Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act (S. 1832), which would require insurers to cover mental illness in the same way that they cover physical illnesses. Currently, insurers can set limits on the number of sessions covered. The Coalition also is working to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop more accurate statistics on mortality rates for eating disorders. According to Jeanine Cogan, PhD, past director of the Coalition, and currently its principal investigator, the figures are underreported because death certificates don’t cite eating disorders as a cause of death.

Executive Director Marc Lerro said that the group plans to post a final report summarizing the results from the conference on the Internet. He added that the report frm the conference will be available for purchase later in print form and on CD-ROM.

Mary K. Stein

Managing Editor

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