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Why we need a World Eating Disorders Action Day

Kira Rakova

June 2nd, 2016 will mark the very first World Eating Disorders Action Day. While different countries and organizations have long had awareness weeks (such as NEDAwareness week and the Canadian Eating Disorders Awareness Week), this is the first time eating disorders are getting global attention. In fact, the whole day has been developed by grassroots advocacy efforts of over 150 organizations in over 40 countries.

The central mission of this movement is to bring together eating disorder activists around the world to collectively demand for change to evidence-based treatment accessibility, stigma and stereotypes, and funding gaps. Acknowledging the different needs of various countries and communities, the movement also seeks to be culturally relevant and inclusive of marginalized individuals. The hope is that not only will national and local governments be influenced to create the necessary changes within each country, but that the World Health Organization will also recognize the day.

If nothing else, the movement has highlighted the disparities in treatment options and accessibility to care between and within countries. For instance, Konstantin Ryzhkov recently wrote about treatment options in Russia and noted how eating disorders are still treated similarly to addictions rather than complex, distinct illnesses.  Similarly, Nadia Shabir remarked on her blog in the lack of specialized treatment options available in countries with large Muslim populations, such as Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Such accounts underscore both the need for the development of accessible evidence-based treatment services and the fact that eating disorders can affect anyone.

Even within countries with established eating disorder treatment programs, research initiatives, and a strong non-profit presence, there are significant gaps. Stereotypes regarding who is affected by eating disorders and what a person with an eating disorder “looks like” continue to limit accessibility to care for Black individuals, higher-weight individuals, men and many other groups.  Moreover, many face significant challenges in receiving insurance coverage.  Such obstacles highlight that even within more privileged countries, big changes are needed for eating disorder justice.

Collectively, these narratives from around the world demonstrate the blatant need for modifications in eating disorder treatment, education, prevention, intervention, and research efforts in EVERY country. As mental illnesses with the highest mortality rate, eating disorders should be prioritized in public health agendas around the world.

The World Eating Disorders Action Day is the start of this change – a change that transcends physical borders and calls for solidarity in justice for the millions of people affected by eating disorders and their loved ones. It is a start to building an international community of activists and advocates who support each other in the quest to dispel myths and make evidence-based, culturally sensitive and inclusive treatment options available to everyone.

If you are interested in learning more about the first World Eating Disorders Action Day, please visit our website (http://worldeatingdisordersday.org/) or check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And don’t forget to use the hashtag #WeDoAct! 

About the Author

Kira Rakova is a graduating senior at the City College of New York studying international studies, communications, and anthropology. Her research and activist interests include mental health and eating disorder justice, social development, and gender justice. Currently, she is also the blog and Twitter manager of the online, recovery-focused community Beating Eating Disorders, a contributing writer to Proud2Bme and Adios Barbie, and a member of the World Eating Disorders Action Day steering committee.