By Jillian (Croll) Lampert, PhD, MPH, RD, LD, FAED
Advocacy in its simplest form is using our voice for change. In the process of using our voice to seek change for others, we are often changed in the process as we see our efforts have impact. Advocacy takes many forms; at its core, it is the act of communicating the importance of an issue to someone in a position of power to make change. In the realm of eating disorders, much advocacy is needed, and much is happening.
Why do we need advocacy?
Advocacy around eating disorders impacts and accelerates access and progress. Advocacy is key to expanding access to quality care, increasing education and awareness, decreasing stigma around eating disorders, and increasing knowledge through research and its dissemination and uptake. Despite eating disorders impacting at least 29 million Americans, eating disorders do not have the kind of visibility in the healthcare arena that we need them to have to ensure people have adequate and destigmatized access to care, education is available and accessible, and research is sufficient. While the barriers to access and awareness are many and complex, advocacy, particularly advocacy focused on policy change, is one of the tools of change we can all wield effectively.
How do we advocate?
Everyone can be an advocate for change to make the world a better place for people with eating disorders and those that care for them. Clinicians, educators, individuals with lived experience, and supporters and loved ones – some of us are more than one of those at the same time – can all influence public awareness and public policy as it relates to early intervention, access to care, research, and treatment.
The first step is learning about and lending your voice to what is already in motion. From a legislative and policy advocacy perspective at the federal level, the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action (EDC) is the leading voice for eating disorders advocacy on Capitol Hill. The EDC is a coalition of 40+ member organizations speaking with a unified voice to influence federal policy through legislation and regulatory change.
What is there to advocate for right now on the Hill?
The goal of legislative and policy advocacy efforts is to educate public officials on the severity of eating disorders illness, the impoverished research environment, and the importance of increased treatment and early-intervention resources. Briefly, there are a few primary pieces of federal legislation specific to eating disorders currently in play on the Hill aiming to make these kinds of impact.
The Nutrition CARE Act
The Nutrition CARE Act seeks to include outpatient Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) – the technical term for the services delivered by dietitians – as a covered benefit under Medicare Part B, like how MNT is covered for other nutrition related illnesses such as diabetes and renal disease. You may wonder why this bill is focused on Medicare when many insurance benefit plans do not cover dietitian services for individuals with eating disorders. Since Medicare coverage often forms the backbone of commercial insurance coverage, a change in Medicare can echo through the rest of coverage, increasing access more widely. To learn more about the Nutrition CARE Act, please view the Nutrition CARE Act infographic on the EDC website.
The SERVE Act
The SERVE Act seeks to improve access to eating disorders care for servicemembers and their families covered under TRICARE, given there are many barriers to access to care including age limitations, location limitations, and lack of awareness of the significance of the impact of eating disorders on military members and their families. Military members and their families do not have adequate access to care for eating disorders and they need our help to get it. To learn more about the SERVE Act, please view the SERVE Act infographic on the EDC website.
In addition to these bills, there are other exciting legislative and policy efforts on-going and getting involved is easy. To get more familiar with the many initiatives of the EDC, take a few minutes on the EDC website to learn more about active legislative and regulatory efforts. Sign up for text alerts straight to your phone can impact the passage of legislation that can save lives – all with just an easy phone call, text, or email from you to your members of Congress. It is easy and not nearly as intimidating or time consuming as you might think.
You might also have eating disorders legislative efforts happening in your state that you can get involved in on a local level. Additionally, there may be other kinds of local policy efforts you can influence, such as school wellness policies or education curriculum change. Talk with others interesting in eating disorders in your community to learn how you can get involved or create change yourselves by identifying needs in the community and working together to address them. Coalition building paves the way to having a powerful impact and starts with connections with others.
Why does it take for me to do advocacy work?
It can be easy to get involved in a way that truly creates change. Advocacy can be as “everyday’ as talking to the people you meet in the normal course of your life and sharing information about eating disorders, dismantling myths about who gets eating disorders and why, addressing weight stigma, redirecting unhelpful diet talk, and much more. Those conversations can have lasting and significant impact on others. Check out the www.whattosaynow.org website for simple tips on how what we can say can change kids’ lives for the better. Advocacy can be a little less “everyday” and entail calling your state or federal Representative or Senator to share your support for a bill (or clicking on that super easy text link you get after signing up for text alerts!) that would improve access to care, research funding, dissemination of training, and the like. Advocacy can be attending a virtual or in-person advocacy event at the state or federal level – sharing your expertise be it personal and/or professional with policy makers that need to learn what you already know. In sum, advocacy takes you sharing your perspective with others in a position to make change happen.
Why should I get involved?
While advocacy in the eating disorder realm helps change the course of events and can truly help save lives, it can powerfully impact you personally. I remember the first time I went to DC nearly 20 years ago and participated in an advocacy day in support of eating disorders legislation. I was thinking “DC is a huge place and Congress is way bigger than me. Truly, what am I going to be able to do to impact what happens here?” I left that day on the Hill with an amazing sense of impact and self-efficacy. We can make a difference. Each one of us. Talking with policy makers and their staff throughout that day, I realized a few things. One, advocacy is not possible everywhere. While we as a nation of individuals may disagree about a lot of things, our way of governing means we have available to us avenues to share our perspectives that are not available globally. I treasure that right and responsibility. Two, the meetings our group of advocates had with staff people and policy makers inspired people in positions of influence to do more for people with eating disorders. They wanted to help make things better. Seeing and hearing the impact of our thoughts, expertise, and perspective on people who make the rules, the laws, and ultimately the change was empowering and impactful. Three, if those of us who spend our time, our lives, our passions, trying to help make the world a better place for people with eating disorders and those who love and support them, and work to make it a place where eating disorders are less likely to occur in the first place don’t talk to policy makers about the change we need to see – who will?
Your voice matters. It can and will help change the world – and change you. And joining together with other voices that care about the same things – well, that is a formula for success. I look forward to seeing you on the Hill – in person, virtually, in spirit – we’re in this together.
About the author:
Jillian (Croll) Lampert, PhD, MPH, RD, LD, FAED
Dr. Lampert is the Chief Strategy Officer for the recently merged Veritas Collaborative and The Emily Program. Additionally, Dr. Lampert is Co-Founder and President of the REDC, the national consortium representing eating disorders care focused on treatment standards, best practices, access to care, and collaborative research. She is also Treasurer of the Eating Disorders Coalition, a DC-based national organization for eating disorders policy and advocacy, and a Board Member of WithAll, a Minnesota based organization that empowers eating disorder prevention and strengthens support for recovery. She holds an adjunct graduate faculty position in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. Lampert completed her doctorate degree in Nutrition and Epidemiology and Master of Public Health degree in Public Health Nutrition at the University of Minnesota. She earned a Master of Science degree in Nutrition at the University of Vermont and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinics. She has an expansive range of policy, clinical, research, education, teaching, and program development experience in the area of eating disorders.
Dr. Lampert has served on the Board of Directors of the Academy for Eating Disorders as the Electronic Media Portfolio Director and co-chair of the Academy for Eating Disorders Nutrition Special Interest Group. She is a Fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorders (FAED) and a member of the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), and BHN (Behavioral Health Nutrition) dietetic practice group. Dr. Lampert is the author of numerous book chapters and articles addressing the nutritional treatment of eating disorders, body image, sports participation, adolescent health, and disordered eating and she regularly speaks regionally and nationally on numerous eating disorder-related topics.
One of her primary goals in life is to have the kids in her house (and everywhere!) have confident, loving relationships with their bodies and themselves.
Chief Strategy Officer, The Emily Program
2265 Como Ave
St. Paul, MN 55108