Law would tell parents about eating disorders

The House has passed a bill requiring Virginia school boards to give students’ parents information about eating disorders.

Delegates on Thursday unanimously approved House Bill 1406, which states, “Each school board shall annually provide parent educational information regarding eating disorders for pupils in grades five through 12.”

The bill’s chief patron is Delegate Richard Bell, R-Staunton, a retired high school special education teacher and coach. Democratic Delegates Mark Keam of Vienna and Kaye Kory of Falls Church are co-sponsoring HB 1406.

Keam said eating disorders are starting earlier in children because of peer pressure and bad health behaviors.

“Eating disorders are one of those things that we as a society don’t talk about very often,” Keam said. “We don’t think about it very often; we don’t know a lot of people that may be impacted. But unless we make it a positive proactive awareness, we may never know more about it.”

HB 1406 would give parents guidelines that describe the signs of eating disorders and what to look for in their children. Parents also would learn how they can get help if their child is at risk for or suffering from an eating disorder.

The bill also allows for schools to screen for eating disorders. The screenings are not medical or physical but would help identify risky behaviors that might lead to eating disorders.

The Virginia Department of Education will work with the Virginia Department of Health to create policies on providing parents with correct information about eating disorders from informed medical experts.

Medical experts have recognized the need to diagnose and treat disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

In 2010, Dominion Hospital in Falls Church opened what it described as the only comprehensive eating disorder treatment center in Virginia. The center, called Reflections, already has a long waiting list, which demonstrates the extent of the problem and the need for treatment.

Kory said eating disorders are a growing problem. She said parents are the first line of defense and must learn how to tell whether their children might have an eating disorder.

After clearing the House, HB 1406 now moves to the Senate. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.
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