Colorado’s new law to protect people with eating disorders

Colorado is the first state in the nation to enact a law that will help people who struggle with eating disorders. The law, which will take effect on January 1, 2024, will limit the use of body mass index (BMI) in determining treatment and ban the sale of diet pills to minors without a prescription. The law aims to improve access to care and prevent the development of eating disorders, which have the second-highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

What is the new law and why is it needed?

The new law, known as the Eating Disorder Prevention and Treatment Act, was passed by the Colorado legislature in May 2023 and signed by Governor Jared Polis in June 2023. The law has two main components:

  • It prohibits insurance companies from using BMI as the sole criterion for determining the level of care for people with eating disorders. Instead, insurance companies must consider other factors, such as medical history, physical and mental health, and the recommendations of health care providers.
  • It bans the sale of over-the-counter diet pills and supplements to minors under 18 years old without a prescription. The law also requires retailers to post a warning sign about the potential health risks of these products.

Colorado’s new law to protect people with eating disorders

The law was introduced by Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Senator Brittany Pettersen, who both have personal experience with eating disorders. They said the law was necessary to address the growing prevalence and severity of eating disorders, especially among young people.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, about 9% of Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and 28.8 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point. Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. However, some groups are more vulnerable, such as adolescents, women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and athletes.

Eating disorders can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences, such as heart problems, kidney failure, osteoporosis, and suicide. Eating disorders also have a significant impact on the quality of life, mental health, and social functioning of those who suffer from them.

How will the new law help people with eating disorders?

The new law is expected to have positive effects on the prevention and treatment of eating disorders in Colorado. Some of the benefits include:

  • It will increase access to appropriate and timely care for people with eating disorders, by ensuring that insurance companies cover the level of care that is medically necessary and recommended by health care providers. This will reduce the barriers and delays that often prevent people from getting the help they need.
  • It will protect minors from the harmful effects of diet pills and supplements, which can cause serious side effects, such as heart problems, liver damage, and addiction. These products can also trigger or worsen eating disorders, by promoting unrealistic and unhealthy body image and weight loss goals.
  • It will raise awareness and education about eating disorders, by requiring retailers to post a warning sign about the dangers of diet pills and supplements. This will inform consumers about the risks and encourage them to seek professional help if they have signs or symptoms of an eating disorder.

What are the reactions and opinions on the new law?

The new law has received widespread support and praise from various stakeholders, such as health care providers, advocates, and people with lived experience of eating disorders. Some of the reactions and opinions are:

  • Dr. Patricia Westmoreland, a consultant psychiatrist with ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders, said the new law is a fantastic step toward protecting people with eating disorders. She said that BMI is not a reliable indicator of the severity or complexity of an eating disorder, and that insurance companies should not use it to deny or limit coverage. She also said that diet pills and supplements are dangerous and ineffective, and that banning them for minors will prevent them from developing or worsening eating disorders.
  • Brenda Velissaris, the clinical director at EDCare in Denver, said the new law is much needed and will benefit many people. She said that eating disorders are very common and have increased exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused stress, isolation, and changes in routines and eating habits. She said that eating disorders are more than just weight, and that the new law will help people get the holistic and comprehensive care they deserve.
  • Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet, one of the sponsors of the bill, said the new law is personal and meaningful for her. She said that she struggled with an eating disorder for 25 years, and that she was denied treatment by her insurance company because her BMI was not low enough. She said that she hopes the new law will save lives and prevent others from going through what she went through.

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