LIVE Well Act: Why It’s Important

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Joslyn P. Smith

“It is imperative that any education efforts around food and nutrition include eating disorders prevention and assessment for every child independent of weight status.” Chevese Turner, NEDA’s Chief Policy and Strategy Officer. 

In November 2018, NEDA announced new legislation that amends existing United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) school and community-based nutrition education and obesity prevention programs to include eating disorders prevention. The Long-Term InVestment in Education for Wellness (LIVE Well) Act incorporates evidence-based, long-term health practices into an existing USDA grant program to protect people with eating disorders and improve overall health outcomes for children.

Why is the LIVE Well Act important?

Eating disorders will affect 30 million Americans of all body sizes over the course of their lifetime. Binge eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder, and 81 percent of those with binge eating disorder live in higher weight bodies. And numerous people with or at risk for eating disorders other than binge eating disorder also live in higher weight bodies. Historically, nutrition education programs have been weight-focused, which can negatively affect those at risk for an eating disorder and increase body dissatisfaction. Two-thirds of children in higher weight bodies are at risk of developing an eating disorder or engaging in unhealthy weight control measures.

What purpose does it serve?

The LIVE Well Act demonstrates that weight-inclusive programs that reject an emphasis on weight and weight loss by focusing on health being multifaceted, improve the health of individuals with and without eating disorders. Its approach to well-being emphasizes health for all people across the weight spectrum and prioritizes the elimination of weight stigma. The legislation’s focus on long-term health practices includes shifting to an emphasis on overall health and well-being.

Does the bill encourage increased funding for obesity programs?

The LIVE Well Act does not encourage or support increased funding for obesity prevention programs. It simply opens an existing stream of funding, previously only available for obesity prevention and nutrition education programs, up to eating disorders prevention programs, too.   In fact, one of the main purposes of the LIVE Well Act is to begin shifting federal health promotion discussions away from weight-centered efforts and toward initiatives that support health and well-being, with a focus on long-term health practices, for people of all sizes. 

Possible Outcomes

If enacted, the LIVE Well Act will make already existing USDA funding available for eating disorder prevention programs in schools and some community-based organizations. The potential implications for the bill are much broader, though. 

For example, one provision in the bill requires that any program funding through the USDA grant program (whether it’s a nutrition education, obesity prevention, or eating disorders prevention program) assess all participants both before and following program implementation. This provision is of paramount importance, because it provides a mechanism by which data can be gathered to assess the impact of such programs on disordered eating behaviors and the development of eating disorders. Anecdotally there is strong evidence that obesity prevention programs may prompt or exaggerate disordered eating behaviors. To shift the focus away from weight-centered prevention and intervention programs, though, we need data to support this claim. In addition to requiring data collection, the inclusion of this provision in the LIVE Well Act sets a legislative precedent for including such assessments in future legislative and regulatory efforts.

Our immediate hope for the LIVE Well Act is to help protect youth with or at risk for eating disorders. However, as with most any piece of legislation, the ultimate goal is that NEDA, using the LIVE Well Act as a jumping off point, can shift federal health and mental health promotion policies away from weight-focused programs and toward efforts that are weight-inclusive and supportive of goals and success measures that are independent of weight status.    

Bill Status

The LIVE Well Act will soon be reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and introduced for the first time in the U.S. Senate. We expect this to happen in spring 2019. To help NEDA gain sponsors for the bill, please click here to email your Member of Congress and ask them to support the bill.

Joslyn P. Smith is a consultant for NEDA, focusing on public policy and advocacy benefiting those impacted by eating disorders and the professionals working in the areas of prevention, research, and treatment. Prior to working with NEDA, Joslyn was Director of Policy and Government Affairs for the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA). As a result of her personal experience with an eating disorder, and numerous people she’s met when sharing her story publicly, Joslyn is particularly committed to ensuring those with eating disorders who live in higher-weight bodies are recognized, represented, and advocated for in the field of eating disorders and in public policy.