Health, News, Politics

NEWS – Colorado Takes A Step Towards Preventing Eating Disorders

Nmesoma Okwudili


May 17, 2023

The Colorado legislature passed eating disorder legislation for the first time in state history last week. 

People all across the world suffer from eating disorders. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 9% of the global population will suffer from an eating disorder throughout their lives. Females are a greater probability than guys to suffer from eating problems. However, it is vital to recognise that they may impact persons of both genders. Males may be misdiagnosed in some circumstances because of stigma and societal standards. The precise distribution varies according to the illness and demographic analysed.

If enacted into law by the governor, Senate Bill 14 will establish a statewide program to educate and maintain a resource bank on disordered eating research, prevention, intervention, and treatments. Senate Bill 176 prohibits insurance companies from refusing payment for eating disorder treatment based on weight requirements and restricts the marketing of diet medicines to minors.

Since 2019, the Eating Disorder Foundation in Denver said its average monthly sign-ups for support groups have increased by 1,000%, which experts attribute to the mental health impacts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Eating Recovery Centre in Colorado similarly reported a “remarkable” uptick in patients in the last three years, particularly among teens and children. 

Nationally, around 10,200 people die from eating disorders yearly, amounting to around one death every 52 minutes. 

In Colorado and around the country, one in every ten persons will be confirmed to have an eating disorder, the most frequent of which are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Eating disorders are the second-deadliest mental health condition, trailing only opioid-related mortality.

“These bills are a strong first step toward better-supporting Coloradans experiencing eating disorders,” said Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, who sponsored both proposals. “It was the first time the legislature took up that issue meaningfully, and we’ll be continuing that work in the future.”

While the approval of these bills is a historic step for Colorado, it was not without cost. Both measures were extensively altered from their original versions to lower the cost to the state. 

SB 176 eventually passed the Senate with a vote of 23-12 and the House with a vote of 51-13. Only Republicans voted against the bill, despite the fact that five Republicans backed it in the House and one — Rep. Brandi Bradley of Littleton — signed on as a sponsor. 

SB 14 passed almost entirely along party lines, 23-12 in the Senate and 47-18 in the House. Only one Republican voted “yes” on the bill in either chamber: Rep. Rick Taggart of Grand Junction.

Opponents of the bills argued that eating disorders aren’t an issue lawmakers should be addressing, with some saying legislating medical treatments is not the proper role of government and others saying the government should instead focus on more prevalent causes of death. 

“I worry the message we might be sending is that the actual leading causes of mortality and morbidity, the actual top 10 or top 20, are not being prioritised,” said Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, who voted against the bills. “We don’t have an Office of Unintentional Injuries Prevention, … an Office of Cancer Prevention, … an Office of Heart Disease Prevention.” 

SB 14 proposed establishing a new state office to educate adolescents, parents, educators, and primary care professionals about preventing, detecting, and treating eating disorders. The Department of Disordered Eating Prevention would also have directed a $200,000 grant program to fund research on the state’s prevalence, causes, and consequences of eating conditions.

Proponents argued that eating disorders disproportionately affect Coloradans, necessitating state intervention. Colorado is a national centre for eating disorder treatment, and according to a 2015 survey, the state has the fifth highest rate of eating disorders among adolescents in the US.

The money for the grant program was eliminated in the final version of the law, and the office was relegated to a program inside the Department of Public Health and Environment, while it has the same functions.  

SB 176 was revised even further. As initially introduced, the bill would have established various laws governing care practices in eating disorder treatment facilities, all of which were later deleted and dropped from the final bill to reduce state-related implementation expenses from almost $1.2 million down $0.

Prior to the amendments, SB 176 would have required rehabilitation centres to provide private weigh-ins and medical examinations for patients when requested, banned staff from sharing a single bathroom stall with a patient, needed appropriate bathroom arrangements for non-binary and transgender patients and made bed-based care, room-based care, and forced tube feeding a last resort. 

Proponents said the law was prompted by the “traumatic” personal experiences of those who had worked at or resided in eating disorder treatment centres. The hospitals fought back against the measure, claiming that the procedures were necessary because of personnel shortages or the often life-or-death cases they were required to handle. 

The finalised version of SB 176 would nevertheless prohibit insurance companies from using BMI or other weight standards to determine a patient’s level of care — though it could be regarded for anorexia patients specifically in combination with the patient’s eating patterns, needs for support or supervision, test results, and potential co-occurring disorders. 

Despite the many amendments made to the bills, proponents still celebrated their passage as a significant step in the right direction for Colorado — and vowed to continue pushing for change. 

“The effort to pass this bill, however, reduced in its final form, served the important purpose of raising awareness,” Activity said. “Mental Health Colorado will persist in our efforts to make human health and well-being the dominant priority for Colorado lawmakers. We will be back.”

Colorado’s measure establishes a state office tasked with, among other things, addressing healthcare gaps, awarding research funding, and educating kids, educational professionals, and guardians. Bills introduced in New York and Texas aim to educate kids about mental health conditions, including eating disorders.

According to Katrina Velasquez, chief policy officer of the National Eating Disorder Coalition, these measures will allow students to detect early indicators of disordered eating behaviours in themselves or other students, offering them a significant head start in treatment.


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