General Assembly

Reintroduced legislation addresses eating disorders in school-age kids

“Eating disorders are not a choice, and nobody deserves a life with one.”

“Eating disorders are not a choice, and nobody deserves a life with one.” Alexandra Koch | Pixabay

By Marley Parish

It’s been seven years since Emily Rosenberg, a Pennsylvania native, spoke about her struggle with an eating disorder during a Capitol press conference, advocating for bipartisan legislation to raise awareness and help with early identification in school-aged children.

And her efforts to promote a bill that would require schools to provide annual education to parents with kids in 6th through 12th grades about eating disorders and resources to help overcome them haven’t stopped.

“As a survivor, I use my voice and lived experience to educate and bring hope to those struggling by sharing the message that recovery is possible,” she said in a statement. “Eating disorders are not a choice, and nobody deserves a life with one. I did not give up on my recovery, and I will not give up the fight to pass this needed legislation.”

The legislation Rosenberg initially advocated for, modeled after a 2013 law passed in Virginia, was introduced in the Pennsylvania legislature in 2014 but never made it out of committee, with similar proposals in the House and Senate.

Sen. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, and Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny, have reintroduced the proposal in their respective chambers with the hope of raising awareness about eating disorders and helping with early detection. Their bills also propose the creation of a task force, formed by the Department of Education and Department of Health, to develop guidance and educational resources for parents.

“Eating disorders exist across the broad spectrum of age, race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomics – affecting more than 30 million Americans,” Santarsiero said. “As we see younger children expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies and worries of weight gain, it’s important to equip parents early with up-to-date information and local resources on this condition.”

Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, causing an estimated 10,200 deaths each year – one death every 52 minutes, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

In a statement, Johanna Kandel, founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to “swiftly” pass the legislation “because students deserve better.”

“With this legislation, parents and school leadership will be better equipped to recognize when eating disorders present themselves and to refer youth to appropriate care,” she said. “Not one more life should be stolen by this insidious disease.”

The proposal’s reintroduction also comes after Meta, formerly known as Facebook, faced backlash from users, parents, and federal lawmakers after Frances Haugen, a whistleblower, testified that the social media company’s apps harm children by promoting behaviors that can be detrimental to their physical and mental health.

Ahead of an October Senate hearing with Haugen on the social media company’s methods, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, created a “finsta,” a fake account on Instagram, and posed as a 13-year-old girl. Blumenthal’s staff, he said, followed public accounts associated with extreme dieting and disordered eating. Within a day, Instagram was recommending accounts promoting eating disorders and self-harm.

“With the growing use of social media, we need to take steps to bring attention to this issue. Many parents may not recognize the warning signs of an eating disorder,” Ortitay said in a statement, adding that he hopes the legislation “gives parents the information they need” and helps them “recognize negative body image messages in society today.”

Marley Parish is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capitol-Star, where this story first appeared.