Diet pills are incredibly dangerous for teenagers. California must regulate them like cigarettes


As a pediatrician who treats adolescents with eating disorders and a public health professor who studies how best to prevent them, we often encounter a similar arc in young girls that we see struggling with an eating disorder. : the start of college causes pressure to be thin. These girls then start trying to lose weight in any way they can, resorting to many unhealthy behaviors, including restricting food intake and vomiting. If they’re not taken quickly enough, many will need to be hospitalized with severe weight loss and dangerously low electrolytes. Some may need to be transferred to residential treatment centers for additional support.

While such therapies and interventions are successful in helping young girls regain their health, there are steps we can take to prevent them from reaching such a dangerous state in the first place.

Eating disorders among tweens and adolescents have increased across the country. In the first 10 months of the pandemic, the National Eating Disorders Association reported receiving 78% more calls to its hotline. The number of adolescents hospitalized with eating disorders at UCSF doubled between the start of the pandemic and December 2020, and those high numbers persisted until 2021.

So what can we do? One step would be to make it difficult for teens to get their hands on one of the tools they use to lose weight – over the counter weight loss supplements and diet pills.

Eleven percent of teens report using a weight loss supplement, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is concerning, because a recent study found that young people who use over-the-counter diet pills are four times more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder than non-users. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly warns adolescents against using these products for any reason.

Unfortunately, these harmful products are easily accessible and readily available. We’ve seen them all in our local drugstores, grocery stores, health food stores and online. What many people don’t know, however, is that weight loss supplements are not reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration for their safety or effectiveness before they hit the market. Additionally, a federal law passed in 1994 – with generous support from supplement industry lobbyists – expressly prohibits the FDA from requiring rigorous screening of these products, so there is no meaningful federal oversight.

Yet many rigorous scientific studies have shown that these types of supplements pose serious health risks to consumers. A recent study using data from the FDA’s Adverse Event Reporting System found that young people using weight loss supplements were three times more likely than those using regular vitamins to experience serious medical damage, including hospitalization, disability, and health. even death. Studies have linked weight loss supplements to organ failure, heart attacks, strokes, and death. The CDC estimates that supplement use leads to 23,000 emergency room visits each year, a quarter of which is due to the weight loss category alone.

Why are these products so dangerous? Laboratory studies by the FDA and independent scientists have found that weight loss supplements are often associated with banned substances, prescription drugs, excessive stimulants, and other toxic ingredients.

For teens in our country, the situation is dire, but California has the power to turn the tide.

State lawmakers introduced AB1341, which, if passed, will prevent unsafe weight loss supplements and over-the-counter diet pills from being sold to minors just like we have done with other products. harmful substances such as cigarettes.

When AB1341 was introduced last year, it went through several committee votes with overwhelming approval, but then faltered at the 11th hour of the legislative session, when lawmakers postponed action until January 2022. And While this bill sat on the sidelines, the weight loss supplement industry stepped up marketing after the lockdown. It’s easy to see why.

The US weight loss supplement market was valued at $ 192.2 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $ 295.3 billion by 2027. Achieving growth targets at this rate will require adding legions of new ones. users every year, making adolescents a crucial part of the consumer base. Businesses know that if they can get teens hooked, they will have a guaranteed market for years to come. This is why the industry has flooded state capitals with lobbyists to protect its interests.

With the start of the New Year, now is the time for state lawmakers to take action and protect California’s youth from these harmful products. Age restrictions are an evidence-based policy strategy that has been shown to be effective in reducing the use of harmful products by young people when applied appropriately, such as with tobacco and alcohol. The bill also appropriately requires that these dangerous weight loss supplements be kept behind the counter with posted notices of known health risks. These measures will go a long way in helping our young people stay healthy.

Momentum for action is building across the country, with New York and Massachusetts considering similar bills this year, but California could be the first in the country to sign the bill.

AB1341 gives California lawmakers the opportunity to help curb the explosion of adolescent eating disorders and lead the nation in the fight to protect the health of our young people.

Jason Nagata is a pediatrician and assistant professor at UCSF. Dr S. Bryn Austin is a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.