By Sabeen Khalid
New York City, New York
The prominence of unrealistic and glamorized body types present throughout the media has significantly impacted the health of adolescents globally. As social media use continues to increase, many argue that the need to protect adolescents from the untrue promises of diet pills is becoming more pressing.
Assembly member Nily Rozic proposed New York Assembly Bill A431C, and Senator Shelley Mayer introduced Senate Bill S16D, which aims to restrict the sale of over-the-counter supplements to minors. Senate Bill S16D was passed with an overwhelming amount of support. Similarly, other states, such as California, Massachusetts, Illinois, and Connecticut, are making notable progress to abate body-related beauty standards among the adolescent community.
Over-the-counter diet pills and dietary supplements, sold for weight loss and muscle-building, can easily be found in convenience stores, grocery stores, and online venues to consumers of all ages. These diet supplements–which one in seven Americans consume on a daily basis–are highly unregulated by the FDA. Few consumers are aware of the fact that the FDA does not require meticulous safety screenings or tests for efficacy before these products enter the market. This lack of regulation poses a large threat to the consuming community, as it is the target of large medicinal companies who use them as a source of profit.
Companies that produce these supplements allocate a substantial amount of resources to advertise for their products, and are often successful in doing so. Sensa, a popular weight loss product company, claims that their weight-loss supplement is clinically proven to help people lose an average of 30 pounds in six months without dieting or exercise. “Simply sprinkle Sensa on, eat all the foods you love and watch the pounds come off,” one commercial promises, “It’s that easy.” To no surprise, many victims of false advertising have believed their lies to be true, causing Sensa to make $364 million in profit in just four years.
In an effort to address these problems and advocate for bills aimed at protecting children from harmful diet pills and muscle-building supplements to be passed, many youth have partnered with the Strategic Thinking Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Dr. Bryn Austin, alongside Dr. Amanda Raffoul, Monique Santoso, and Harvard STRIPED youth advocates have contributed substantially to the movement and support of these bills. Members of this organization regularly meet with assembly members via Zoom and engage in conversations regarding the use of over-the-counter diet pills. Their youth-led survey of over 1500 young people in Massachusetts, California, and New York indicates that three in four youth found that an adult has never talked with the respondents about the dangers of using these products.
These results further reveal that adolescents are more susceptible to taking the pills, as they have little to no education regarding their harmful effects. Diet-pill companies shield vital information from the public, such as the fact that consuming their products, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, can result in elevated blood pressure, insomnia, heart attacks and other serious health problems.
Statistics reveal that adolescent and young adult women who use over-the-counter diet pills are four to six times more likely than their peers to be diagnosed with an eating disorder within several years. Similarly, young men who start using muscle-building supplements are three times more likely than their peers to go on to using illicit anabolic steroids. In New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital alone, there is a 300 percent increase in adolescents and adults seeking treatment for an eating disorder.
Jennifer G., a STRIPED Youth Corps Member, believes that it is more important than ever to restrict the sale of over-the-counter supplements to minors, stating, “Sadly, an unrealistic beauty standard has been set for us teens. The upward trend in diet pill purchases and hospitalization due to eating disorders is truly frightening, and it is very important that we get these bills passed to help our youth throughout the country.”
Having a network of support, boundaries and self-accountability, and awareness are super important in staying safe and healthy, both mentally and holistically. As Madison Z ‘23 asserts, “You are beautiful just the way you are!”
Since the bill was passed by the New York State Senate on March 10th, it has faced mixed reactions. While lauded by some as the next step in combatting health and body image issues, the bill has been criticized by others, including the Natural Products Association whose Director of Government Affairs, Kyle Turk, has called the bill "vague and draconian." The bill now awaits a decision in the hands of Governor Kathy Hochul.
If you would like to contribute to this movement please complete the youth survey under this link: https://linktr.ee/harvardstriped, and contact your representative expressing interest in this bill using the following link: https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/.