TRENTON – State legislators are considering a bill that would prohibit certain diet pills and dietary supplements for muscle building from being sold to anyone under age 18, unless they’re with their parents.

The Assembly Health Committee on Monday voted for a bill, A3512, that would impose penalties of up to $750 against people or retailers who sell such products to minors, unless they are prescribed by a licensed health care professional.

“With the growth of social media, we’re seeing a lot of body image issues,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, including teens trying to lose weight and others trying to bulk up.

“I would love to not see any youth or adolescents trolling the weight loss or muscle building aisle obsessing over what product is going to deliver the best result,” said Brianna Mullins, who used to work for the National Eating Disorders Association and is in her 10th year of recovering from such a disorder.

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The Kennedy Forum says eating disorders have increased by 70% during the pandemic and that calls to the National Eating Disorder Awareness helpline are up 107% compared with before COVID.

It says over half of teenage girls and one-third of teenage boys will use unhealthy weight control behaviors.

Jessica Hickman, senior manager of provider partnerships for Equip Health, said regulation of dietary supplements is “woefully inadequate” and puts teens in danger.

“After all, these products are on the shelves next to your vitamins in the aisle of your neighborhood pharmacy and available for purchase by any 12-year-old desperate to achieve the physique displayed on the box in front of them,” said Hickman, a resident of Cranford.

Last month, an article in a pharmaceutical journal showed how extensively diet pills were being promoted to youth on TikTok – accounting for 31 out of 100 promotional posts seen in 90 minutes, said Amy Kennedy, co-founder of the Kennedy Forum.

But Kyle Turk of the Natural Products Association said the federal government does regulate the claims companies make in such ads.

“There would be erroneous restrictions most notably on local businesses such as your local pharmacy, convenience stores and health food stores by prohibiting the sale of popular products,” Turk said. “Restricting access to them is also unfair to those who value health and wellness and hurts responsible retailers.”

Turk said there’s a difference between drugs and dietary supplements and that the latter are natural products found in food and nature that don’t cause eating disorders.

Lawmakers asked Turk what share of sales are made to minors and how much advertising is directed toward them. He said he didn’t know, and they pressed him to provide that information later.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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