By Mary K. Stein, Managing Editor

A U.S. Congresswoman may have found a unique way to fund a nationwide program to help raise awareness of the existence and seriousness of eating disorders.

In mid-March, Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) introduced a bill designed to raise national awareness of eating disorders and to create educational programs to better educate students about the seriousness of eating disorders. The bill seeks to amend Title VI of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, to help students with eating disorders receive a quality education and to "secure their chance for a bright future."

H.R. 3928 would amend a 1965 act

H.R. 3928, "The Eating Disorders Awareness, Prevention, And Education Act of 2000," would provide states, local school districts, and parents with the means and flexibility to improve awareness of, and to identify and help students with eating disorders. It amends Section 6301 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 with the following language: "programs to improve the identification of students with eating disorders, increase awareness of such disorders among parents and students, and train educators (such as teachers, school nurses, school social workers, coaches, school counselors and administrators) on effective eating disorder prevention and assistance methods."

Dr. David Herzog, Professor of Psychiatry at the Eating Disorders Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, noted that getting the Department of Education to use designated Title VI funds to underwrite the awareness program was a novel idea. Under Rep. Biggert's bill, states and local municipalities would be allowed to use federal funds to develop and design their own awareness and prevention programs. Such programs could include role modeling, teacher training, and mentoring. The funds would come from expansion of the allowable uses of the Innovative Education Strategic Block Grant program. Dr. Herzog also wrote a letter of support when the bill was being drafted.

Rep. Biggert has three daughters, and became aware of the seriousness of eating disorders when one of her daughters' friends developed an eating disorder.

Bill's language underlines the seriousness of eating disorders

The wording in the bill also cites statistics that underscore the seriousness of eating disorders. For example, it points out that an estimated 5 to 10 million women and girls and 1 million men and boys suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, as well as eating disorders that are not otherwise defined. It adds that 42% of 1st through 3rd grade girls want to be thinner and 81% of 10-year-old children are afraid of being fat. It also stresses that eating disorders can lead to death.

Finally, it notes that eating disorders can have a negative impact on the educational advancement of a student, a situation often overlooked and rarely addressed in U.S. schools.

NEA Endorses the Bill

In March, the National Education Association (NEA) endorsed Rep. Biggert's bill. In a March 17 letter, Mary Elizabeth Teasley, NEA Director of Government Relations, urged members of Congress to cosponsor H.R. 3928 to help local school districts address eating disorders. Teasley wrote, "These disorders impact not only health but also children's ability to advance educationally. Educators who spend considerable time with students on a daily basis are often in the best position to identify children suffering from eating disorders." Mrs. Teasley added, "In many instances, however, educators lack the training and resources to respond effectively to students in need of help. H.R. 3928 will make available critical resources to help tackle this serious problem."

National study to follow

Within 18 months after the act becomes law, the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Center for Health Statistics will conduct a study on the impact eating disorders have on educational advancement and achievement. The study will attempt to evaluate the extent to which students with eating disorders are more likely to miss school, have delayed rates of development, or have reduced cognitive skills.

In addition, the Center will report on current state and local programs to educate youth about the dangers of eating disorders as well as to evaluate the value of current prevention programs. Finally, the Center will recommend measures that could be undertaken by Congress, the Department of Education, and state and local educational agencies to strengthen eating disorder prevention and awareness programs.

Public service announcements

The bill also calls for public service announcements, similar to the government's anti-drug media campaign, to improve public awareness and to promote identification and primary prevention of eating disorders. The proposed public service announcements would be developed and distributed nationwide by the Secretary of Education in cooperation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health.

The bill's status

In mid-March, H.R. 3928 was referred to the Committee on Education and the Workforce and the House Commerce Committee for further evaluation and debate.