The Lead

Pa. House committee advances bill to increase eating disorder awareness, identification among kids

By: - April 12, 2023 3:00 pm
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Legislation aiming to increase eating disorder awareness and help with early identification in school-aged children saw bipartisan approval from a Democrat-controlled House panel on Wednesday.

The House Education Committee voted 12-4 to approve a bill drafted by state Rep. Jason Ortitay, R-Allegheny, that requires schools to issue annual education to parents of kids in 6th through 12th grades about eating disorders and resources and mandates the creation of a state task force to develop guidance and educational resources.

The proposal — which is the product of a group of constituents working to raise awareness — has been in the works for roughly six years, Ortitay said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“They really wanted to drive out resources to parents, so they could be made aware of … what signs to look for, what resources they could go to, and really make it easier for the parent to make a decision to get their kid help if they see these eating disorder signs and red flags,” he said.

Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses — affecting an estimated 9% of the U.S. population — and causing 10,200 deaths each year, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Under the legislation, the bulk of the responsibility, Ortitay said, falls on the state Department of Health and the Department of Education, noting that they would form the task force and develop educational materials for schools, which would then distribute information — by a method of their choice — to parents and guardians.

Guidelines developed by the task force would be created with input from educators and organizations dedicated to eating disorder awareness and treatment and other health professionals. The task force would meet at least twice a year to reassess information distributed to schools and parents.

Sen. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks, reintroduced companion legislation to Ortitay’s bill in the upper chamber earlier this year.

“These serious conditions are not a fad, phase, or lifestyle choice, but instead are potentially life-threatening conditions that impact an estimated 500,000 Pennsylvanians,” he wrote in a memo seeking legislative support.

The House proposal now goes to the full chamber, which reconvenes for session in Harrisburg later this month, for consideration.

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