State senators request a study of eating disorders in Texas

Chad Lyle

To evaluate the prevalence of eating disorders and eating disorder-related deaths in Texas, two state senators filed a bill asking the Department of State Health Services to investigate the matter.

According to Senate Bill 1145, the department would compile its findings in a report — which would include both statewide and national eating disorder trends — and provide a list of resources available to Texans with eating disorders.

State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, said he authored the legislation with his colleague, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, to draw attention to an issue he feels is not adequately understood.

“Despite the large numbers of individuals and families affected, people suffering from eating disorders receive less help than those suffering other dangerous and difficult health problems,” Johnson said in an email. “We aim to better understand this issue, so that we can provide better care to so many of our people, to reduce the risk among vulnerable individuals and to identify where further research will be helpful.”

Kim Gould, a licensed marriage and family therapist who practices in Austin and specializes in eating disorders, said eating disorders may be on the rise because of “diet culture.”

“Most people don’t realize that we’re saturated in diet culture,” Gould said. “It’s anything in our society, whether that’s media, pop culture, magazines, Instagram, Facebook — anything that tells you how to lose weight, that you’re not good enough the way you are, essentially that being fat is bad or wrong.”

Though Gould said she thought “diet culture” was an important factor in the development of eating disorders, she emphasized they stem from a variety of factors.

“There are so many different ways to develop (an eating disorder),” Gould said. “It could be some form of trauma. Parents will bring their teen in and be like, you know, ‘He or she has an eating disorder, we want them to get better.’ But there’s typically always something either happening or that has happened historically in the family system to (cause) the eating disorder.”

Johnson said he and West have been collaborating on SB 1145 with a group from their district that seeks to prevent eating disorders from developing in young people and help those who already have them.

“I’m proud to be working with The Elisa Project, an organization from Dallas that helps young Texans with eating disorders, to move this legislation forward and bring more awareness to this critical mental health issue,” Johnson said in an email.

Though Johnson and West are first requesting a study with SB 1145, and not any policy changes yet, Josh Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project, said it is not uncommon for studies such as theirs to lead to further legislation on an issue.

“I don’t know exactly what the rate is at which studies then lead to legislation, but it’s not uncommon for the Legislature to take an incremental approach towards any legislation,” Blank said.

The bill requests the findings of the study be made available to the Texas Legislature no later than Dec. 1, 2022.


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