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How I Became an Advocate for Eating Disorder Legislation in Ohio

Jenna Bird, Public Policy Intern

When someone mentions Ohio, my home state, they usually think football, the Midwest, and buckeyes, but from personal experience, mental health and eating disorder awareness/prevention do not always come to mind. As a kid, a close relative of mine struggled with her eating disorder and still does. It is due to that personal experience that my mother taught me about positive body image and loving one’s self. Unfortunately, often others do not always have those conversations. 

I watched some of my best friends struggle with various eating disorders and I wondered why conversations were not happening. Why, even though they are the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, my school and many parents were not talking to us about them? Why did many friends of mine not get help until later in life? Something has to change. So, when I started interning at NEDA, I jumped at the chance to work on a project to raise awareness about eating disorders.

When deciding what kind of legislation would be most impactful in Ohio, I thought back to my friends and me. My friends' parents often did not have any knowledge or information about eating disorders, but if they had, they may have been able to talk to them about these deadly mental illnesses. Potentially, my friends might not have struggled with their eating disorders or would have gotten treatment more quickly. So, I knew the type of legislation I would want to help introduce would require schools to distribute information about eating disorders to parents. This legislation passed into law in Virginia in 2013 and has been introduced in other states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania, so I was eager to work with NEDA to bring this initiative to Ohio.

Requiring school to provide parents with resources and information on eating disorders is essential, as it helps to start a conversation that is sometimes hard to have. It has the potential to promote much needed attention, and Ohioans deserve that. In order to get this legislation introduced, I conducted research to find a legislative sponsor who would introduce it. I reached out to a few different senators because of their histories of introducing legislation related to mental and physical health.

I sent email outlining facts and information about eating disorders, spoke about what kind of legislation I wanted to introduce and told them why it mattered. After some time, a few disappointments and a lot of emails, Senator Tavares and her team eagerly jumped on the opportunity and introduced the bill in the Ohio Senate. After the hard work, seeing S.B. 262 introduced with co-sponsors Senators Sykes, Brown and Williams, I knew something important had taken place. 

I think what this ongoing project has taught me most is that I did not have to wait to be an advocacy intern at NEDA to do this work. Doing the research, sending the emails and working with a senator’s office are all things anybody can do. I am going to keep working until Ohio passes legislation about eating disorders and their effects; that is an important step to changing how and when Ohioans start to have conversations about eating disorders. 

If you live in Ohio, help support this legislation by taking action here to write to your legislators to ask for their support! Your voice can help make a difference!

Jenna is a student, advocate and reader, who loves to write. She is currently a senior at NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study and has been the Public Policy Intern at NEDA since September. She is going to law school this upcoming fall in St. Louis, and plans to continue fighting and advocating for causes near to her heart.