California and New York are on the verge of doing more than the FDA by proposing bills limiting the sale of diet pills and weight loss supplements to children.
The bills would prohibit in-store and online retailers from selling dietary supplements and over-the-counter diet pills that are not a prescription, to anyone under the age of 18. These types of supplements and pills are not required to be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration, and the agency has even warned the public of the dangers of the product, highlighting contamination and limited regulations.
Because the dietary supplement industry encompasses a wide range of vitamins, herbs and minerals that are classified by the FDA as food, they do not have to undergo scientific and safety testing like prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines do.
Proponents of the proposed legislation and public health advocates have been working to keep weight loss products and diet pills out of the hands of children, specifically young girls since research has linked several of these products to eating disorders. A study in the American Journal of Public Health, which followed more than 10,000 women ages 14-36 over 15 years, found that “those who used diet pills had more than 5 times higher adjusted odds of receiving an eating disorder diagnosis from a health care provider within one to three years than those who did not.” There’s also been an uptick in diet-culture and so-called “pro-anorexia” content on platforms like TikTok geared toward young people.
Proponents of the proposed legislation are hopeful that if both bills are signed into law, this will cause momentum in restricting diet pill sales to children in other states. Missouri, New Jersey and Massachusetts have already introduced similar legislation. And these same advocates are worried that children are hoping to replicate the types of bodies and figures they are seeing on social media and are seeking out these pills to help them. According to a study commissioned by Fairplay, a nonprofit that seeks to stop harmful marketing practices targeting children, kids as young as 9 were found to be following three or more eating disorder accounts on Instagram, while the median age for disordered eating was 19.
And it’s been easier than ever for minors to get these dietary supplements as drug stores and online retailers have seen a significant increase in supplements and weight loss pills on the market. In 2021, the category accounted for nearly 35 percent of the $63 billion over-the-counter health products industry, according to Vision Research Reports, a market research firm.
But health experts agree that for parents concerned about their children seeking out and using these unregulated diet pills, having an open dialogue around the topic and modeling healthy eating habits and body attitudes is a great place to start.