Eating Disorder Awareness Must Extend Beyond a Single Week in February

FlowersNational Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an annual campaign that helps educate people about the realities of eating disorders, from whom they most commonly affect to signs and symptoms of these devastating illnesses.

It’s also a chance to provide hope, support, and advocacy for the individuals and families of those whose lives have been upended by eating disorders.

At Timberline Knolls, that’s a mission we take seriously year-round. To close out the latest incarnation of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we participated in the second annual NOT ONE MORE Weekend from February 25-27. TK is a sapphire sponsor of The National Alliance for Eating Disorders (The Alliance), which hosted this important event.

NOT ONE MORE is a national movement built on the pillars of what The Alliance stresses — ensuring that not one more life is lost, not one more child is taken, and not one more precious moment is destroyed by eating disorders.

Proceeds raised from this event directly funded The Alliance’s free, weekly virtual eating disorder support groups. Speakers included TK’s own Kirsten Muller-Daubermann, as well as singer/songwriter/advocate Demi Lovato, a TK alumna.

While we were thrilled to do our part to promote this virtual event, which drew more than 2,600 participants nationwide in 2021, we also firmly believe that more must be done throughout the year to educate the public about the often fatal consequences of eating disorders.

One week of publicized awareness in late February and one weekend event, even one as momentous as NOT ONE MORE has been in its first two years, can’t be the only time when eating disorder education is a top priority.

As one of the country’s leading eating disorder treatment centers, we know the significance of shedding more light on the realities of eating disorders. We know that:

  • Approximately 29 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder during their lifetime, yet only one-third of those will receive treatment.
  • Eating disorders don’t discriminate — they can happen regardless of age, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, or body shape and size.
  • Someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes.

But we also know that full recovery is possible and early detection and intervention can save lives.

According to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there is strong evidence of early intervention having a meaningful impact on symptom severity, quality of life, and mortality rates. Research also indicates that, based on randomized control trials with middle school-, high school-, and college-age populations, eating disorders and disordered weight control behaviors can be prevented.

Still, evidence-based prevention programs have not been widely adopted across the nation. Research is essentially stalled at the efficacy stage of translation, with very few effectiveness or dissemination studies of eating disorder preventive interventions.

There’s also data that suggests that school-based eating disorders screening may be on par with other more routine adolescent health checkups. Yet screening for early detection and referral for early intervention aren’t regularly conducted in high schools or colleges — or by healthcare providers.

That means that there are still many hoops to jump through to normalize the prevention and intervention strategies that have been shown to work. If an annual physical is intended to monitor a child’s emotional, physical, and mental growth and development, why can’t we screen for early detection of eating disorders — most of which often begin before age 20?

At Timberline Knolls, we will continue to advocate for the reduction of stigma, elimination of secrecy, and availability of evidence-based eating disorder treatment. We will push for greater awareness and visibility that may help even a single family or individual understand their symptoms early enough to pursue professional intervention.

And we will encourage continued activism to fund research and legislative action that will put the spotlight on exactly how dangerous eating disorders are — and how capable we are of preventing or successfully treating so many more of them than we already do.