Brown measure to study link between diabetes and eating disorders approved by health care committee

For Sen. Sharon Brown, one of the greatest privileges and highest responsibilities of representing the people of Washington in the state Senate is bringing attention to the challenges faced by everyday citizens, and looking for solutions to make their lives better. That is the goal of her bill to have the state study the link between eating disorders and diabetes, which was advanced by the Senate Heath and Long-Term Care Committee today.

Senate Bill 6663 would direct the Department of Health to provide a report on dual diagnoses of eating disorder and diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, patients with type I diabetes carry a high risk of developing eating disorders due to restricted diets and a focus on weight control.

“This is an important bill that affects young women, struggling with body image,” said Brown, R-Kennewick. “We all know how serious type-one diabetes is to begin with; you pile on top of that a young woman who wants to look her best at prom, and so she starts altering her insulin intake, which is an extremely dangerous practice.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the general practitioners are not aware of diabulimia and its dangers.”

Diabulimia refers to an eating disorder in a person with diabetes, typically type I diabetes, wherein the person purposefully restricts insulin in order to lose weight. The practice has been reported in 11 to 15 percent of adolescents, and 30 to 39 percent of adults living with diabetes. It can lead to early onset of serious diabetes complications such as blindness, amputations, or death.

Alyssa Marshall, a young woman who died from diabulimia, is the inspiration for Senate Bill 6663.

While testifying before the health and long-term care committee, Brown held up a picture of Alyssa Marshall, a young woman who died from diabulimia and is the inspiration for Brown’s legislation.

“It is critically important that we talk about this issue, especially for young women in our society,” Brown concluded.

Sharla Marshall, Alyssa’s grandmother, described a “beautiful, talented and hardworking young woman, who celebrated her high school graduation just this past May.”

“She had lost over 25 pounds in the past year. On July 3, we got a call from our son, telling us that Alyssa had died,” Marshall testified.

“Alyssa, like all young girls, wanted to fit in and she struggled with body image. She had learned a deadly trick for losing weight easily. For over a year, she had been restricting the amount of insulin she gave herself. She gave just enough to keep herself alive, but not enough to prevent damage to her key organs.”

Marshall told committee members that neither Alyssa’s parents or doctor were aware of the risk or how to help, and she urged the committee to support the bill and raise awareness of the issue.

Under Brown’s bill, the Department of Health would be required to provide a report to the Legislature by December 1, 2020, that addresses:

  • the prevalence of eating disorders among individuals in Washington living with diabetes;
  • the risks for people with diabetes associated with eating disorders;
  • insulin usage and omission habits among the affected population;
  • available screening tools for providers; and
  • available treatment options.