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Combating Diet Culture and Eating Disorders

Big Picture

As one of the deadliest mental health disorders, eating disorders will continue to kill people in the United States of America if governments do not act. Historically, federal and state governments have been slow to pass policies addressing eating disorders. America must find effective ways to curb eating disorder rates and the effects of diet culture on these disorders. 


Operative Definitions

  1. Diet culture: The beliefs and expectations one has about achieving or maintaining a “thin” body.

  2. Eating disorders: Mental illnesses related to abnormal eating habits. 

  3. Dietary products: Products containing dietary ingredients (pills, powders, liquids, etc.).


 Important Facts and Statistics

  1. Eating disorders kill over 10,200 people in the United States of America per year.

  2. Around 30 million individuals, or nine percent of the population, are diagnosed with an eating disorder in America.

  3. It was not until 2016 that the federal government addressed the issue of eating disorders. 

  4. US federal funding for research on eating disorders is allocated as $28 million per year whereas other mental illnesses receive up to 13 times that amount. Research funding for depression receives $328 million per year, schizophrenia receives $352 million per year and ADHD receives $105 million per year. 

  5. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) found that 35 percent of dieting becomes obsessive, and 20-25% of dieting turns into eating disorders. 

  6. The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy, & Action (EDC) is an organization that advances the recognition of eating disorders throughout the United States by promoting federal support for improved education, training and other resources. 

  7. The yearly economic cost of eating disorders is $64.7 billion and the additional loss of well-being per year is $326.5 billion. 


Four-Point Plan

(1) Increase federal funding for eating disorder research. Increase US federal funding from $28 million per year to $100 million per year for eating disorder research. This will lead to more knowledge and awareness of eating disorders to develop policies to curb eating disorder rates. Additionally, this is more consistent with US federal funding for other mental illnesses.


(2) Establish a formal congressional committee on mental health with a sector for eating disorders. Establish a formal committee dedicated to mental health and allow The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy, & Action (EDC) to specialize in and guide the eating disorder sector. This will prioritize the issue within a small group and also lead to more knowledge and awareness on eating disorders to develop policies to curb eating disorder rates as discussed above.


(3) Restrict the sale of diet pills and supplements. Restrict the sale of dietary products to minors, but do not completely prohibit them. This will curb the number of consumers and tackle diet culture at its early stages (adolescence) without stunting economic growth and businesses.


(4) Incorporate eating disorders and diet culture into the health education curriculum in public schools. Incorporate eating disorders into health education such as eating disorder prevention, diet culture resistance, eating disorder awareness, etc., so that school-aged children are knowledgeable and aware of the detrimental effects of disordered eating. 


Why This Initiative is Important

Governments need to act against the effects of diet culture and other harmful contributors to eating disorders. In the United States, someone dies from an eating disorder every 52 minutes. People must be informed about eating disorders and the policy initiatives to combat eating disorders. 


Economic Impact (from our Student Economist Team)

Increasing funding for eating disorder research and treatment will decrease the $17.7 billion the government loses in treating people with the disorder. Restricting the sale of dietary supplements to minors may prevent a portion of the nearly 2 million children alive today from developing an eating disorder before they are 20 and from paying approximately $11,808 per year to treat the disorder. The government will not have to pay as great a sum as the $1.8 billion it has previously to fund health services related to eating disorders if proper education is incorporated into the curriculum.


Acknowledgments

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors.


The following student(s) worked on this nonpartisan proposal: Madeline Leung, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Alexander Sejas, University of Miami.


Sources

Arzt, Nicole. “Diet Culture: Definition, Examples, & Impacts.” Edited by Naveed Saleh, Choosing Therapy, 8 June 2021, www.choosingtherapy.com/diet-culture/

Dewhurst, Emma. “How the US's Policy Response to Eating Disorders Leaves Communities Hungry for More.” Policy Perspectives, 21 Apr. 2021, https://policy-perspectives.org/2021/04/21/how-the-uss-policy-response-to-eating-disorders-leaves-communities-hungry-for-more/ 

“Minor (Law).” Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Minor_(law)

“Report: Economic Costs of Eating Disorders.” STRIPED, The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 27 Sept. 2021, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/ 

“Top 6 for the 46th.” The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy, & Action (EDC). 

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