MARYLAND (DC News Now) — Lawmakers in Maryland are pushing for more regulation on diet supplements they say target teens and young people.
With this week being National Eating Disorder Awareness week, it was at the top of the minds of advocates and one local state delegate.
35 to 57% of young girls across the US say they have used diet pills or laxatives, among other dieting supplements, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. Now with the help of advocates and survivors, state lawmakers are pushing to put a stop to this dangerous dieting practice.
“If I could go back and not take those diet pills and not easily buy them as a teenager, I definitely would not. It derailed my life,”Jane Zeltser, eating disorder survivor and awareness advocate
Jane Zeltser was first diagnosed with an eating disorder at 19. She would spend years in and out of treatment. She says her journey was extremely long and expensive and not only took a toll on her but also on her family. She emigrated to Maryland as a young girl and says she immediately felt the need to fit in with her peers.
She said at 19, she drove herself to a drugstore and purchased diet pills that were being promoted by Anna Nicole Smith. Now, she is pleading with lawmakers to protect other kids from having similar experiences.
“I feel like I really didn’t have a childhood because of what I was doing. I wasn’t focusing on school, my grades were terrible is very difficult for me to go to college. I had to drop out and then go back after I went into recovery,” Zeltser said. “This was directly from using these poorly regulated diet supplements that were so easy for me to buy.”
16-year-old Lamia Ayaz has watched her friends struggle with disordered eating and has worked through her own bouts of body dysmorphia. She says friends at her high school in Ellicott City will often make comments about their bodies, restrict their meals, and compare themselves to what she calls unrealistic expectations set by figures on social media.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how dangerous they [diet pills] are. They see these marketing practices and they think, ‘oh well this can help people lose weight. I’m not doing anything wrong,'” Ayaz said. “Having these diet pills next to vitamins and next to supplements gives people an idea, ‘maybe I should be taking that, maybe it’s healthy, and maybe it’s not so bad.'”
The bill would ban people under 18 from purchasing these types of pills. It would require the Maryland Department of Health to create warnings about potential health risks, and allow the department to determine which pills are affected by the bill.
Delegate Joe Vogel is leading the charge on this bill and says it goes far beyond restricting sales of diet supplements to teens.
“This raises awareness about an industry that for so long has gone unchecked and really is putting profit ahead of the health and safety of people of all ages, but especially young people,” Vogel said. “I have such a hard time with the opposition to this bill because it really is a question of health and safety versus profit.”
The bill is currently in the Economic Matters committee in the state legislature. If it passes through both the State House and Senate as well as receives an affirming signature by Governor Wes Moore, the bill could go into effect as early as October of this year.