Experts speaking at a webcast sponsored by The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health spread the blame for deficiencies in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, with lack of medical school training and poor insurance coverage among the culprits.
The September webcast, titled Eating Disorders, Mental Health and Body Image: The Public Health Connections, highlighted the need to improve services for a category of disorders that has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. S. Bryn Austin, a professor in the School of Public Health and director of the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders, bemoaned an overall lack of recognition of the seriousness of eating disorders. Austin said “we know that this starts with a lack of training in our public health schools.”
The leaders speaking at the forum suggested that screening for eating disorders should be instituted as early as the elementary school years. They added that health insurance coverage requirements for eating disorders should be standardized.
“For some insurance plans, you have to really be on death's door to get coverage,” said Thomas Weigel, MD, associate medical director of the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital.
The discussion also pointed to how societal “fat shaming” contributes to the development of eating disorders, evident in misguided health education, unrealistic body images portrayed in the media, and rampant weight discrimination.
The full one-hour forum is available online.