Op-Ed

Congress passes its first eating disorders law

Earlier this week, President Obama signed the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act into law with vital, but overlooked, reforms for the treatment and early identification of eating disorders.
Earlier this week, President Obama signed the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act into law with vital, but overlooked, reforms for the treatment and early identification of eating disorders. KRT

Earlier this week, President Obama signed the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act into law with vital, but overlooked, reforms for the treatment and early identification of eating disorders.

We are proud that these provisions — originating from our Anna Westin Act — will benefit the 30 million Americans that the National Eating Disorders Association estimates will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Our legislation’s namesake, Anna Westin, lost her personal battle with anorexia at only 21 years of age after her insurer refused to cover essential inpatient treatment for the severe eating disorder she developed as a teenager.

Anna’s story mirrors that of too many young men and women in our community and we were determined to fight alongside her mother, Kitty, for better results.

With the help of Kitty, and community leaders like Johanna Kandel of the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness here in South Florida, the 21st Century Cures Act is both a game-changer for biomedical research and the first-ever federal eating disorders legislation passed by Congress.

Now insurers will no longer be able to discriminate against coverage of residential treatment services for eating disorders — care that may have saved Anna’s life.

The law will also prepare health professionals and school personnel to identify eating disorders and enable early intervention through education and training programs at the National Institute of Mental Health and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These Anna Westin Act provisions will have lasting benefits for millions of Americans and their families whose battles with eating disorders are often seriously misunderstood.

Despite securing these important legislative victories, one crucial piece of the Anna Westin Act was left out of 21st Century Cures: Truth in Advertising. Ongoing research shows that “photo-shopped” or otherwise significantly altered body and facial images can have a negative impact on mental health, especially in teens and children. Dissatisfaction with their own bodies based on unrealistic and unattainable physical standards promoted by these significantly digitally-altered images can develop into dangerous medical conditions including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, costing both families and taxpayers dearly.

We are not seeking new regulation of the advertising industry. Instead, our efforts are designed to encourage businesses to realize that what’s good for consumers is also good for business. Our proposal directs the Federal Trade Commission to work with the National Institute of Mental Health to convene a working group of parents, health professionals, and the business and advertising communities to develop recommendations that will reduce the risk of harm arising from deceptive advertising imagery.

Before Anna died she wrote in her journal: “May your dream never end and your voice never die.” We will continue to use our voices in Congress to fight for Truth in Advertising to erode the expectations set by the unrealistic images that bombard young people in our society every day.

Just imagine what could be accomplished if young Americans were free to focus their attention on improving the world around them, furthering their education, and working toward professional goals, rather than struggling against a deadly mental illness. By advancing Truth in Advertising in the next Congress, we can build on the eating disorder treatment and education successes in the 21stCentury Cures Act, and nurture the dreams and voices of millions of young Americans just like Anna.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R, represents Florida’s 27th Congressional District. Rep. Ted Deutch, D, represents Florida’s 21st District.

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