May 12, 2004
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

Families Push for Comprehensive Treatment of Eating Disorders

(Albany, NY) - Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, (Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy who has led the fight against the epidemic of obesity is now sponsoring legislation (A.10130/S.5646) to help those at the other end of the spectrum suffering from Anorexia and other eating disorders. Today he was joined at a press conference in support of his legislation by Lynn Grefe, CEO of National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and mother of a daughter with an eating disorder, Douglas Bunnell, Ph.D., President of the Board of NEDA and a New York-based practitioner who directs an eating disorder clinic in Connecticut, Sondra Kronberg, Chair of NEDA Long Island, and Mary Ellen Clausen, President, Ophelia's Place in Syracuse, a support program for eating disorders who is also a mother of a sufferer.

"For the last few years I have become linked with the fight against obesity. Although obesity is rapidly becoming our number one health menace, we cannot ignore the danger that our society's emphasis on losing weight can contribute to dangerous eating disorders. This problem seems to be growing and not just among wealthy, suburban teenage girls but among men, older women, Hispanics, and other inner-city populations. Unfortunately, New York State may not have the type of care available that is needed to effectively address this deadly problem and save lives. Even when care is available families cannot afford it and insurance coverage is inadequate. That is why we need this bill," said Ortiz.

An estimated 5,000,000 to 10,000,000 women and girls and 1,000,000 men and boys in the United States suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, as well as eating disorders that are not otherwise defined. Eating disorders can be fatal; anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders. A young woman with anorexia is 12 times more likely to die than other women her age. Many victims and families hide the disorder and quietly suffer the consequences. These conditions are only recently getting the attention they need.

"For too long, eating disorders have been the 'hidden epidemic' in our state and nationwide. Young women and men are losing years of their lives to this illness and are often reluctant to seek treatment because of a negative stigma attached and then the frustration as they attempt to find and afford adequate care. NEDA is working hard to remove these hurdles by educating the public that these are serious illnesses and the only shame should be our country's lack of attention to those suffering. That is why we are so heartened by our New York State legislature's proactive measures to provide for accessible treatment and insurance coverage for the illness," said Grefe.

Ortiz's bill would fund the development of comprehensive care centers or networks across the State that would provide a system of care providing services and treatments from the initial screening and in-patient residential care through follow-up care and outpatient counseling. It would also require insurers to cover treatments provided by comprehensive care programs.

Currently many families are forced to use out-of-state comprehensive programs that are expensive and may not be covered by insurance, especially HMOs that are regional. These expenses are bankrupting hard-working families. Without successful treatment, the victim of an eating disorder can end up in an expensive hospital stay where insurers will pay for care that may have been prevented.

Mary Ellen Clausen, Mom and Founder of Ophelia's Place in Syracuse, went on to speak from personal experience. "As a mom with two daughters who have struggled for many years with eating disorders, I understand first hand the overwhelming need of a comprehensive care center in NY State. Our estimated costs of treatment over the past 6 years have been 1/2 million dollars, all spent outside of New York State."

"I have treated eating disorder patients in Long Island for many years and face the anguish from those who need ongoing, effective advanced care and cannot afford it. Everything that we can possibly do to make treatment in New York affordable and accessible is long overdue, so we are grateful," said Sondra Kronberg, MS, RD, CDN and Director of NEDA Long Island.

Ortiz added, "It is not humane or logical for us to force an individual and family to travel out-of-state to receive life-saving care and ruin themselves financially or end up in a life-threatening situation that requires very expensive and prolonged hospital stays. If we can create model programs around the State it will be better for those suffering from these conditions, their families and even their health insurers. We can save lives and money."

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