Beverly family championed eating disorders legislation

Courtesy photoLinda Downey of Beverly (fourth from left) and members of the Eating Disorders Coalition outside Congressman Joseph Kennedy's office in Washington, D.C., last year.

BEVERLY — The passage of landmark legislation designed to help people with eating disorders has hit home for millions of people dealing with the disease — including one family from Beverly.

Red Rock Lane resident Linda Downey went to Washington, D.C., last year to help lobby for the legislation after her daughter's long struggle with anorexia. On Wednesday, Congress passed what advocates are calling the first-ever eating disorders legislation. The bill is expected to be signed by President Obama.

Downey said she played a small role in the lobbying effort compared to advocates who have been involved in the fight for 16 years. But she called its passage a "great victory for people with eating disorders," including her 21-year-old daughter, Emaleigh.

"I felt such relief for the people who have been working on this for so many years," Downey said. "I couldn't believe I was part of something that is going to be a really big difference in people's lives who have eating disorders."

The legislation, passed as part of the 21st Century Cures and Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, is designed to improve health insurance coverage for eating disorders and residential treatment, increase training about eating disorders for doctors and other health professionals, and educate the public on early identification of the diseases.

The insurance coverage provision is particularly meaningful for the Downeys in light of their struggles to get help for Emaleigh, who was diagnosed with an eating disorder when she was 12 years old.

Emaleigh was enrolled in a residential treatment program in Arizona when her insurance company announced it would no longer pay for her stay there. The Downeys ended up paying for the final month of her treatment by taking out a home equity loan, and using her college money to help pay for outpatient care after she came home.

Emaleigh said she is now in her "strongest recovery" since she was diagnosed with the life-threatening disease, and credits the longer stay at the residential program for aiding her recovery. She said the new legislation will now help others get the treatment they need.

"It makes me feel really, really proud and happy for all of the people who have put in years and years working toward getting this passed," she said.

Linda Downey said the experience taught her the power of advocacy, however small. On her trip to Washington she took part in the MOM March Against Eating Disorders on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and joined advocates to lobby members of Congress, including Salem Democrat Seth Moulton.

After Downey personally visited Moulton's office, the congressman signed on as a sponsor to the eating disorders legislation and said it was "due to the advocacy of Linda Downey."

“This is how democracy should work," Moulton said at the time. "No big-money lobbyists, just a concerned mother who wants to make life better for those suffering with an eating disorder. I hope my support for the bill can make a difference.” 

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or

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