DENVER (KDVR) — According to a study by JAMA Pediatrics, young adult and adolescent cases of eating disorders saw a major increase during the pandemic. Lawmakers at the state Capitol advanced two bills this week to address the issue.

The Eating Disorder Foundation, based in Denver, helps thousands of people struggling with eating disorders.

“Our founder Toni was struggling with her own eating disorder later in life and almost lost her life, and her loved ones didn’t have anywhere to go, they didn’t have any resources. So she started that support group and it built up over the years until we moved into this building,” said
McKenna Ganz, Eating Disorder Foundation program administrator.

The group is supporting a bill Colorado lawmakers are advancing to reduce the problem in the state.

A measure that cleared the Senate would prohibit health insurance companies from using body mass index — BMI — or ideal weight from being used to determine a standard of care, although the prohibition would not apply when determining medical necessity. Supporters say BMI can be a barrier to treatment.

“Instead of looking at it as a bio, psychosocial illness, it’s being looked at as, oh, it’s the way that your body is looked at is how you can tell if you are sick enough to receive treatment, and that’s already such a stigma in the eating disorder world — people feeling like they are not sick enough and then being validated again by insurance companies saying, ‘Oh no, you’re fine because of this BMI,'” said Lydia Rhino, Eating Disorder Foundation program director.

Diet pills targeted in proposed legislation

The bill would also prohibit retailers from selling over-the-counter diet pills to people under 18. Another measure gaining approval would create a Disordered Eating Prevention program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Preventative Services Division.
Supporters say the program would help them better identify how to help people who are struggling.

“Just having an opportunity to gather the data, figure out what the best practices actually are instead of just fumbling our way through things blindly, without any information, would be really helpful for the field,” Ganz said.

Supporters hope the new measures bring awareness and reduce stigma connected to eating disorders.

“I think for a lot of folks there are some stereotypes about who might be affected. I know a lot of the time, people might think of young wealthy, white women, but the truth is that vulnerable populations are often more impacted by eating disorders,” Ganz said.

Both bills cleared the state Senate and now head to the House for consideration.