Tomorrow, Vally Dikovitskaya and seven other members of the Boulder Youth Body Alliance (BYBA), a program dedicated to helping teens with body image concerns and eating disorders, will be in Washington, D.C. They're hoping to convince Colorado officials to co-sponsor the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act, which would provide better health-care treatment for those suffering from such issues.
On a previous lobbying trip to Washington, Dikovitskaya, a Fairview High School senior, met a young woman with an eating disorder who was also in the nation's capital to lobby on the subject -- and her story speaks to its seriousness.
"She struck everyone with her story of trying to get treatment over and over, and it was appalling to know that it could be so hard to get help," Dikovitskaya recalls. "When we came back (to Washington) the next time, she had planned to go. We got there and it turned out she had died either the night before or a couple nights before in her sleep because of her eating disorder. That hit me really hard to know that someone could want to help herself and help others and fought so hard for other people and for the FREED Act. It was really emotional for me to hear that she had gone through -- all that just to die a couple days before the trip."
The feeling behind Dikovitskaya's words is emblematic of the entire BYBA contingent, says Carmen Cool, found and executive director of the organization.
"I love these kids so much, and they bring so much energy to Capitol Hill," she says. "They are so passionate when they speak about this bill and why it matters to them from their perspective and what they see in high school."
Dikovitskaya is inspired to create change by what she sees in her school.
"Every day at school, almost without fail, I witness situations where students harass other students for the way they look. And it's tragic for me to hear that, because I know how detrimental that can be to someone's body image," she says. "Body dissatisfaction and body hatred are already so prevalent in our society because of the media and all these messages we get from everywhere that we have to look a certain way."
This will be the BYBA's fourth trip to lobby Congress, as illustrated by the photos seen here featuring representatives Jared Polis and Patrick Kennedy. The teens will meet with Colorado representatives and Dikovitskaya, Gaelyn Tierny and Talia Goldberg will speak at a Congressional hearing. In addition to providing funding for education and research, the FREED act would require insurance companies to pay for treatment for eating disorders -- a major hurdle to fighting eating disorders.
"A lot of people have inadequate insurance coverage, so they can't get the treatment they need," says Cool. "That makes me really sad and angry that can often be a barrier to their recovery."
According to a 2007 Boulder County youth-risk behavior study, 49 percent of girls are engaging in unhealthy weight-control behavior and 19 percent of boys are doing the same. The survey also found that almost 7 percent of girls and 3 percent of boys in Boulder County have exhibited eating-disorder behavior. Averages for Colorado as a whole are similar.
"Even if people aren't suffering from eating disorders, so many people are struggling with body-image issues," says Goldberg, a senior at New Vista High School. "There's a fine line for going from having body image issues to having an eating disorder."
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According to Jeanine Cogan, the policy director of the Eating Disorders Coalition, which sponsors the lobbying day, the biggest obstacles to passing the FREED act are the stigma and ignorance that surround eating disorders. Much of the public isn't aware that people die every day from eating disorders. Cogan adds that partisan politics and passing any bill with insurance mandates on the heels of health-care reform will be a challenge.
"With the FREED act, it's important for people to know that even though it does have a mandate incorporated into the bill, it is worth it," says Tierney, a senior at Boulder High School. "People are worried that it is going to be extra money we have to spend. But in the long run, it is going to save money and it will save lives. So I think it's completely worth it."
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