June 2, 2023
A bill to restrict the sale of weight loss and sports nutrition supplements to minors has advanced in the New York State Legislature. Industry stakeholders were quick to decry the move as being based on shaky science and rife with the potential for unintended consequences.
The State Assembly has passed AB 5610-D, which aims to put some dietary supplements behind the counter to keep them out of the hands of minors. The bill resembles others introduced in New York and other states in recent years, whose underlying theme is the purported link between these kinds of supplements and eating disorders.
Definition of offending products includes specific ingredients
The bill defines the target products as those “Labeled, marketed or otherwise represented for the purpose of achieving weight loss or muscle building.”
The bill specifically excludes protein powders and drinks from the definition, except when they include certain additional ingredients. Those include creatine, green tea extract, raspberry keytone, Garcinia cambogia and green coffee bean extract.
The bill now goes to the New York State Senate. If it passes in that higher body, its fate will rest with Gov. Kathy Hochul, who vetoed a similar bill in December.
While she appeared sympathetic to the purported dangers these supplements pose to minors, the governor vetoed the earlier bill because she said the state health department lacked the expertise to go through the process of analyzing the contents of hundreds of products that might be subject to the restriction. That should be the purview of FDA, she said.
She also said it was unfair to put that burden on retailers, especially when they faced the risk of civil penalties.
In September of 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a similar bill on similar grounds. The state health department could not feasibly undertake the task of creating a list of prohibited products, he said.
Industry stakeholders were quick to react to the news of the bills’ advancement.
“Childhood obesity affects 1 in 5 children in this country, yet we don’t kid ourselves into thinking that age-restricting junk food and sodas would put an end to that epidemic,” said Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) President and CEO Steve Mister in a statement.
“We hope the governor will again recognize that body dysmorphia, eating disorders and other mental health issues are complex problems that are not solved by the distraction of ‘quick fix’ tactics like this, which only offer sufferers and their families false hope,” he added.
Kyle Turk, director of government affairs at the Natural Products Association (NPA), said in an e-mailed statement: “The New York legislature wants to take health care decisions out of the hands of consumers by prohibiting access to some of the most researched supplements in the world like creatine. The government is trying to stand in the way of you being able to make your own health choices and it’s fundamentally wrong. Governor Kathy Hochul must follow the science and veto this legislation."
Questioning the underlying scientific motivation
In addition to the questions raised about state vs. federal authority and whether the bills are operationally feasible, the underlying scientific rationale of these types of bills has been assailed.
Susan Hewlings, Ph.D., vice president of research affairs at Radicle Science, recently published a peer-reviewed paper on this very subject.
“The evidence to date does not support a causative role for dietary supplements in eating disorders,” concludes the paper, appearing in the journal Nutrients.
Hewlings said there can be an association with the use of some supplements and eating disorders, especially among some older sufferers, but this “appears to be more of a symptom or associated behavior potentially valuable as a screening tool as opposed to demonstrating causality.”
Finally, she concluded, rather than grasping at straws such as product bans, health care policy makers should employ proven strategies to help stem the tide of eating disorders.
“There are established prevention and treatment programs for the disorder, which trained health care professionals can utilize,” Hewlings said. “Attention to the complex genetic, environmental, psychological and cultural factors already identified may be useful to specific treatment approaches. Public health policy and resources should be focused on scientifically established approaches to reduce the prevalence of eating disorders.”
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