Cowan, So and Wagner: Better help for eating disorders

We would like to see additions to the resources offered by Yale University regarding eating disorders. Since Yale is a high-stress environment and because 86 percent of eating disorders develop during college, it is of the utmost importance to consider these additions for both the prevention and treatment of eating disorders on campus.

After examining the resources available at the U.S. News and World Report’s top 16 universities in the country, we have concluded that the re-incorporation of an eating disorder center, an increase in awareness groups, improvement of the Yale University Health Services Web site and resources for peers would vastly improve the eating disorder support system at Yale.

It is disturbing that the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders closed earlier this year. Although this center alone did not raise sufficient awareness, it provided a space to consult with specialized physicians. We understand there are limited resources available at UHS; however, we see a need for more attention. Ideally, an eating disorder center at Yale would provide access to inpatient care, partial hospitalization and outpatient care to all students.

With one of the leading medical schools in the country, why not invest in an eating disorder center? Eight of the 16 schools we investigated have an eating disorder center through their medical school, including Harvard and Princeton. Not only would providing this care be beneficial to the patients, it would also provide an avenue for research at Yale’s School of Medicine in the field of eating disorders.

A powerful liaison between an eating disorder center and the student population could be established through the development of student-run organizations knowledgeable in eating disorder outreach. These groups would raise awareness of eating disorders on campus and would help the community overcome the fear and stigmatization related to eating disorders. Although the physical symptoms may be apparent, it would be helpful for peers to be able to detect and respond to emotional and behavioral symptoms associated with eating disorders. These groups would also promote healthy body image and eating habits, supply information, and be available for peer advising.

Another important resource that could be incorporated through student-run organizations is a hotline (phone, walk-in and e-mail) dedicated to eating concerns. Yale’s Walden hotline claims to provide help on any issue, but when we called to discuss concern for a friend, the student counselor only provided us with telephone numbers for other resources — not all of which were on campus — and did not provide any concrete suggestions for what to do.

Another more informal way to increase awareness at Yale would be to update the YUHS Web site to include more information on eating disorders, nutrition and links to student-run organizations. Our generation has become accustomed to seeking answers from the Internet, so by adding this information Yale would give its students a reputable source for potentially life-saving information.

A Web site aimed at college students and dedicated to nutrition information would benefit not only those suffering with eating disorders but also new college students who might not be used to planning meals for themselves. The site should detail what constitutes “healthy eating” and provide general dietary guidelines.

It should also have information for students who suspect a friend may be suffering with issues related to food and/or weight. Trained peer advisors could also provide help to students who do not know much about eating disorders or how to help a friend who may have one. Such advisors could mediate sessions in which a friend expresses concern and the affected peer responds. If the student were responsive to the idea of seeking help, the peer advisor would be right there, ready to help.

These suggested improvements are necessary, and we urge YUHS to consider adding more resources to the Yale community. Ninety percent of people with eating disorders do not seek treatment, so as one of the best universities in the world, let Yale strive to both lower this percentage and prevent more from becoming affected.

Kimberley So is a junior in Branford College, and Monica Cowan and Robin Wagner are seniors in Branford College.


  • Anonymous

    To check out the methods and research data that was conducted in order to develop this proposal, please visit the website published specifically for this topic.

  • Dr. Kevin Grold

    Eating Disorder Treatment Referrals are available online at

  • Know

    Yale needs to hire another nutritionist. The waits are unacceptable, and dangerous.

  • hmm

    Did you guys talk to ECHO at all? They're not a hotline anymore, but they're still around.

  • yalie

    Yes. This article brings light to an important, oft-overlooked issue at Yale.

  • Anonymous

    #4: If you look at the website listed by Kim above and click on the "Proposal" link, you can see a longer version of our editorial that discusses ECHO.

    We definitely appreciate ECHO's efforts, and the group has done a lot to try to reestablish itself after many of the active members graduated in recent years. However, we think that there could be more university support of such groups, which was something we saw at other universities that we evaluated. Additionally, one of the things that we assessed with regard to student groups is whether they have information available online, which is something that ECHO lacks (but which could be easily fixed!)

  • anonymous

    I just wanted to voice my agreement that YUHS needs to be able to respond far more effectively to students struggling with eating issues. One individual had to wait over a week to get a screening and another month to get matched with a counselor. Meanwhile, practitioners in student medicine were threatening forced medical withdrawal. An individual experience is not necessarily representative of the general state of services provided, but is nonetheless problematic. The counselors assigned by the mental health department often do not specialize in eating disorders, and those on the medical side are, through no fault of their own, often equally ill-equipped to provide the necessary help. Eating disorder-related policies and resources need to be thoroughly reexamined. The possibility of forced withdrawal likely prevents certain individuals from seeking help when needed. Medical withdrawal may be necessary in certain cases, but providing adequate services in a timely manner might reduce the need for such a drastic course of action. Yale should focus on helping those that are struggling with weight and eating rather than kicking them out.