Phasing out: The University of Iowa loses its eating disorder program

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Ava Hahn

The University of Iowa Hospital Eating Disorder Program which will be phased out.

Emma Vaaler, Photo Manager

Reproductive healthcare has long been a well-publicized and controversial medical issue in Iowa. With the overturning of Roe versus Wade in June, a new critical healthcare issue is developing.

The University of Iowa hospital eating disorder inpatient unit is starting its journey of being phased out.

Starting in the fall of 2022, no more patients will be admitted into the residential care portion of the eating disorder program. While Iowa hospitals say that there will still be resources available for eating disorder patients, many believe this is the beginning of the end for the entire program. 

The University of Iowa Hospital’s eating disorder program is one of the only available in the state of Iowa. As eating disorder diagnosis rates increase, the idea of this program closing is frightening to those struggling with eating disorders. 

Alyssa Farrell knew long before college that she struggled with her relationship with food and behaviors surrounding weight loss.  None of this rang any bells for her until her life was on the line after attending the University of Iowa and being admitted to the inpatient eating disorder recovery program. “Though I continued to relapse several times following that initial visit as a fault of my own, the program did save my life,” Farrell said. 

Farrell explained many people, including herself, showed interest in refined treatment facilities that offer other forms of therapy such as beaches and horse therapy. However, these facilities do not offer the same control and care for people who are in life-threatening situations. The program at the University of Iowa is equipped to provide the kind of intensive care that is responsible for saving the lives of many.

As disordered eating is not highly-talked about, many who have never struggled with it have no knowledge of the topic. Farrell did not know or acknowledge her eating disorder until treatment was not an option, but an order. “My problem was never really going to be a problem in my mind until I was forced into a facility that was medically equipped to both recognize my illness as well as monitor my health,” she said.

The University of Iowa program was not something on Farrell’s mind until it was something she needed to save her life. “Phasing out this facility would mean that a lot of people who have the mindset and stubbornness that I did in 2017 will fly under the radar and risk losing their battle to their illness,” she concluded. As the program is so critical, there is a lot of uncertainty as to how people’s lives will not be lost after it is phased out.

The importance of addressing eating disorders is not always seen as a priority by people who are not directly affected by them. With the program being phased out as a result of funding cuts, it raises the question as to why people decide what ‘deserves’ to be funded and not. 

In her TED Talk, Eating Disorders from the Inside Out, Laura Hill explains the science and facts about eating disorders, and more than ten million people in the United States are impacted. “Eating disorders have a serious biological brain basis. When a person with anorexia nervosa eats, they feel high anxiety, severe thought disturbance, and noise,” Hill stated.

Eating disorders are biologically the same as diabetes, but, as Hill explains, are not socially treated the same. When funding cuts happen and programs are phased out, it is based on what seems most needed socially.

Much of society does not understand the severity of eating disorders. They have the highest death rate out of any mental illness. With one of the few programs in the country available to battle eating disorders at high capacity being phased out, many future patients are giving up hope to win their battle.