The Charger Blog

Students, Professor Advocate for Eating Disorder Awareness and Access to Care

Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, and two of his students recently met with federal lawmakers from across the country in a virtual event focused on bringing awareness to eating disorders and promoting policy change. They hope to educate and to increase access to care for individuals who suffer from eating disorders.

October 15, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image of Chidera Emeto.
Chidera Emeto ’21 M.A. speaks to lawmakers at a recent Eating Disorder Coalition Virtual Advocacy Day event.

Chidera Emeto ’21 M.A. wants to help debunk myths around eating disorders, and she recently met with lawmakers to push for two bills that would increase access to care to support individuals experiencing those illnesses.

As part of Eating Disorders Coalition’s Capitol Hill 2020 Virtual Advocacy Day, she represented Connecticut, along with her professor Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH. They met with federal lawmakers, including the offices of Connecticut U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Connecticut U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro.

“With the current pandemic, there has been a spike in eating disorders, especially among individuals already diagnosed with an illness,” said Emeto, a candidate in the University’s graduate program in community psychology who hails from Nigeria. “It was a great experience to sit in meetings like this with elected leaders to discuss policies and the importance of these policies to the residents of Connecticut. The event was a great way to educate Congressional staff about eating disorders and also to debunk certain myths surrounding it.”

Emeto and Peri Alexander ’23, both Health Equity and Advocacy Fellows with the University’s WeEmbody Lab, which Dr. Tran leads, aimed to bring awareness to eating disorders, as well as the importance of access to proper care.

They advocated for the Nutrition CARE Act, which would amend the Social Security Act to provide coverage of medical nutrition therapy services to individuals with eating disorders under the Medicare program, as well as a telemental health bill that would ensure greater access to mental health telehealth services to people in all areas – a measure especially crucial during the coronavirus global pandemic.

“I shared a story about my younger cousin who was eight years old at the time she suffered from an eating disorder,” said Alexander, a health sciences major who represented her home state of New Jersey. “I discussed how caring for a loved one with any medical illness is hard and how my cousin and everyone else who suffers from eating disorders should be provided with the best care available. Medical nutritional therapy is a huge part of that care.”

Image of Judy Chu
Rep. Judy Chu (D)-CA, who sponsored the Nutrition CARE Act of 2019, speaks at the advocacy event.
‘My voice…. can change the world’

Dr. Tran is passionate about health advocacy, and his research interests include body image and disordered eating behaviors. As director of the WeEmbody Lab, a research working group of public health professionals and students, he continues to develop research, advocacy, and other public health efforts focused on promoting health equity.

“I learned about the power of health advocacy as a graduate student, and I have continued advocating for public health legislation – especially health equity – ever since,” he said. “Our lawmakers are often bombarded with powerful lobbying groups whose interests are not always focused on the greater good of our society. That's why it's important for me to educate and empower others, including my students, to advocate for issues they care about. Their voices matter. Their votes matter.”

Alexander experienced that firsthand. She said she felt empowered after the meeting, and she is grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with lawmakers. She hopes the message she, Emeto, and Dr. Tran shared will make a lasting impact.

“I'm proud to have had this opportunity to talk to my lawmakers, and I appreciate that they took the time to listen to what I had to say,” she said. “I hope that aside from bringing awareness to this issue, I also made it easier for those living with eating disorders to be recognized and get the help they need. This was a rewarding experience, and I hope other students will join me on the next advocacy day.”

Emeto was encouraged by the response of lawmakers. She believed her voice was heard, and that it is helping to make a meaningful difference.

“As a first-time advocate, one thing I took away from this experience was the fact that my voice matters and can change the world,” she said. “I believe advocacy is one of the many ways I can fight for a cause I care about and create more awareness. This was an exciting opportunity that I'm grateful for.”