Pills and powders claiming to boost weight loss, energy, or sexual performance — available to customers of all ages on drugstore shelves — face little government oversight of their safety and efficacy. Because of legislation passed in 1994, the Food and Drug Administration has been unable to demand testing before a dietary supplement is brought to market or to stop companies from making unproven claims, according to a Jan. 29 Boston Globe column. Young people are especially vulnerable to the marketing of these products.

“We have young people growing up believing the way they appear physically is their defining feature,” Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and director of STRIPED (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders) at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Globe. “That sets them up for escalating weight control methods, and for any kind of pill or potion they can find that will keep them from gaining weight.”

A recent study led by Austin found that use of diet pills increases the risk of eating disorders in young women. She and her colleagues also found that consumption of dietary supplements for weight loss, muscle building, and energy was associated with increased risk for severe medical events in children and young adults compared to consumption of vitamins.

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