National Eating Disorders Association

National Eating Disorders Association Calls on Facebook and Members of Congress to Create a Safe Online Environment for Children and Young Adults Affected by Eating Disorders

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NEW YORK (October 11, 2021) — As the board of directors, founders, and a community of parents, advocates, physicians, mental health providers and supporters representing the breadth and depth of the eating disorders community, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) applauds the strength it took for Frances Haugen to come forward to have an in-depth and honest discussion regarding Facebook and Instagram at the Senate hearing on October 5, 2021 and then, the purposeful way Ms. Haugen continues to engage the public and our leaders on this issue.  

Often overlooked and misunderstood, this hearing brought an intense and imperative focus to the seriousness of eating disorders. Here are some facts:

• Eating disorders have the second highest risk of death of any mental illness (next to opioid addiction). 10,200 people a year will die as a direct result of an eating disorder; that translates to one person every 52 minutes. Research states that individuals with eating disorders are 23 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population. ¹

• 30 million people in the United States have an eating disorder. While many people were gravely impacted by the isolation caused by the pandemic, COVID-19 had a devastating impact on people with eating disorders. The NEDA Helpline reported a 58% increase in calls, texts, and chats from March 2020 to October 2021. Suicidality, self-harm and child protective services calls escalated from an average of 3% to a high of 8% of calls to the NEDA Helpline per month. ² 

• In a report issued last year, focused on fiscal year 2018-2019, the period before the pandemic, there were an estimated 53,918 emergency room visits due to eating disorders, costing $29.3M; and 23,560 inpatient hospitalizations due to eating disorders, costing $209.7M. This is concerning on every level and is compounded by the fact that eating disorder patients are experiencing unusually high barriers to treatment, and hospital beds are in short supply due to the pandemic. ¹

95 percent of people with eating disorders are between the ages 12 and 25—part of the primary audience for social media. While the October 5th hearing raised many facets related to safety and content, our community is specifically focused on the harm that has been done to children and young adults affected by eating disorders and demand that we work toward safeguards and solutions in partnership with Facebook and members of Congress. 

NEDA calls on Facebook to partner with experts and advocates in the eating disorder community—not experts selectively chosen by industry—to revise their algorithms and content by working toward a solution that creates a safe environment and delivers content that supports a journey of health and healing. A significant investment must be made in these efforts and there must be built-in transparency about plans, progress, and issues that are identified. 

We call on Congress to do the following, and do it as quickly as possible:

Reform Section 230 so big tech companies like Facebook are held accountable.

Pass the bipartisan and bicameral CAMRA Act. It’s critical that Facebook releases its research.

Carve out a special research fund at NIMH, $1M at a minimum, for independent research that looks at the effects of social media on children and teens.

Update COPPA. Congress should pass bipartisan privacy protections that stop companies from profiling—and microtargeting—teens and youth with ads and content specifically designed to prey on their fears and insecurities. 

Support the KIDS Act and DETOUR Act. These proposals support healthy technology use for kids; move children away from over-commercialism and endless scrolling; and helps to ensure a quality online experience for kids.

 

 

1. Social and Economic Report on Eating Disorders in the United States, Deloitte Access, STRIPED, AED, published June 2020.

2. Data from the National Eating Disorders Helpline (internal analysis)

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ABOUT THE NATIONAL EATING DISORDERS ASSOCIATION

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. Through our programs and services, NEDA raises awareness, builds communities of support and recovery, funds research and puts life-saving resources into the hands of those in need. For more information, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

CONTACT

Elizabeth Thompson

Interim Chief Executive Officer

[email protected]