National Eating Disorders Association

Eating Disorder School Screening Legislation: Early Intervention is the Best Prevention

Lara Gregorio

In 2013, NEDA will be working with state advocates once again on legislation aimed at adding eating disorders to the list of required school health screenings. Health screenings are required already in many states; in fact, 80% of states currently require vision and hearing screening, and 30% of states require BMI testing for students. Many states have mandatory screening in schools for scoliosis, asthma, and other conditions. No states currently screen for eating disorders, despite the fact that they are the third most common chronic illness among adolescence, with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Screenings can lead to early intervention, and could potentially even prevent serious, chronic eating disorders.

All too frequently, eating disorders are not diagnosed until the illness is entrenched and patients have suffered irreversible physical harm. Studies have demonstrated a link between early intervention and better treatment outcomes. If we can get young people - both male and female - recognized as they are just beginning to have symptoms of disordered eating, we could reduce the incidence of full-syndrome eating disorders and the serious secondary health conditions they cause. 

Given that states are already conducting school health screens, adding an additional screen to an already existing process requires minimal additional work, and little to no money. Reliable eating disorder assessment tools are available which require only 5 simple questions, so little extra burden would be placed on those conducting the screens, and no training is needed to successfully administer the tool. 

Eating Disorder school screening legislation was introduced in New York State last year, where it passed in the Senate Health Committee, and obtained a large majority of support in the New York Assembly. A similar bill will be introduced in Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts in 2013.  Volunteer advocates in Arizona and California may also be lobbying to educate law makers about this important initiative.

Interested in getting involved? No experience is necessary to lobby for legislation in your state, or to join the efforts already underway—NEDA’s STAR program provides you all of the support, guidance, and tools you need to get started. Email [email protected] to learn more.