A California bill banning the sale of over-the-counter diet supplements and diet pills to customers under 18 is set to pass the California State Senate after being approved by the Senate Committee on credits. California Passage Assembly Bill 1341health policy experts and student advocates said, is a long overdue step to address the diet industry’s lack of regulation of weight loss supplements.
The bill, which was passed unanimously by the Senate Health Committee in early June, would introduce a fine of up to $1,000 per violation for retailers who violate its terms. Previously, the biggest hurdle of the bill came from corporate campaigns in the supplement industry. But several companies previously in opposition, including the Consumer Health Products Association, American Herbal Products Association and California Retailers Associationbecame neutral after recent amendments, which removed the requirement to place weight loss supplements behind the counter or in a locked case.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics has strongly warnings young people against using diet pills to lose weight, a survey published in the “Journal of Adolescent Health” found that 11% of teens have used some form of weight loss supplement in their lifetime, which may results serious health problems such as heart attacks, strokes, liver failure or even death.
Bryn Austin, professor of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard University, said companies selling weight loss supplements prey on vulnerable consumers like teenagers for profit. Each year, food supplements send about 23,000 Americans in the emergency room, and a quarter of those cases are caused by weight loss supplements.
“Dietary supplements sold with false claims to aid weight loss aren’t just ineffective, they can be downright dangerous,” Austin said. “Assembly Bill 1341 gives California lawmakers the ability to take meaningful action to protect children in the state from these harmful products.”
Sarina Deb ’23, President of Students Against Eating Disorders, also warned teens against using weight-loss products that claim to guarantee rapid changes in their physical appearance. As a survivor of the eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, Deb said she was grateful her parents stopped her from buying diet pills.
“Diet pills are often a gateway medication and behaviors linked to eating disorders,” Deb said. “We must do what we can to prevent children from falling into the trap of engaging in the consumption of these unscientific and psychologically harmful pills.” Deb was previously an editor at The Daily.
According to Austin, weight-loss products are readily available in stores and online sites, despite the lack of scientific evidence regarding their health implications. The Health and Education Act Regarding Dietary Supplements, passed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, did not require dietary supplement companies to undergo prequalification by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before selling to consumers. As a result, the FDA only recalls weight loss supplements containing toxic ingredients after a reported incident.
professor of pediatrics Neville Golden stated that most weight loss supplements work by suppressing the consumer’s appetite or making them feel fuller for a longer period of time. Although they may help with short-term weight loss, many products have “potentially dangerous side effects such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased nervousness,” Golden said.
For long-term weight loss, Golden said most doctors would instead recommend lifestyle modifications of making healthy food choices and engaging in daily physical activity. “Diet pills don’t cause lasting weight loss,” he said.
The mental and physical consequences often far outweigh the potential benefits. A study published in the “American Journal of Public Health” found that teens who use over-the-counter weight loss supplements or diet pills are four to six times more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder within three coming years.
Rate of eating disorders leaps during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals across the United States are seeing twice as many patients seeking treatment for an eating disorder.
“Anorexia took away my personality, my happiness and my relationships,” Deb said. Banning minors from buying over-the-counter diet pills without a prescription is “a step in the right direction” to address some of the downsides of unreachable standards created by the diet industry, she says.
The California State Senate will vote on the bill on Tuesday. Until then, Deb and many others can only wait and “hope lawmakers do the right thing.”