Type:  Coverage 

By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, SEPT. 9, 2015 - Rep. Kay Khan wants to put dietary supplements for weight loss and muscle building behind store counters and make them unavailable for sale to people under the age of 18.


Khan and health professionals said dietary and muscle-building supplements are associated with eating disorders and are often misused by young people.


"It's a warning for them before people start down that path," Khan told a room full of legislative aides and others on Wednesday.


The Newton Democrat, who is chairwoman of the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities, has a bill (H 3471) before the Public Health Committee that would set fines of between $100 and $300 for violations of the proposed regulation. A hearing will be held Thursday, Sept. 17 at 1 p.m., according to Khan and others in attendance.


While eating disorders are often associated with women, Dr. Kathryn Ackerman, director of the Female Athlete Program at Boston Children's Hospital, said about two thirds of adolescent boys are dissatisfied with their bodies.


Ackerman said muscle-building and appetite-suppressing supplements disrupt a "delicate" system within developing bodies, and she said the appropriate step for young athletes is to consult with a physician or dietician about supplements.


"This bill is not a ban on all use of supplements by young people," Ackerman said. The bill bans sale of supplements to minors, not their use.


"Often the athletes are taking inappropriately high doses," Ackerman said.


GNC, which has locations around Massachusetts, stocks its store shelves with a range of supplements, some of which could fall under the proposed new legislation. The company's website markets diet products categorized as "total lean" and "appetite control."


Khan said that the federal Food and Drug Administration doesn't get involved in regulating dietary supplements until there is a "serious issue."


Dietary supplements can cause "organ failure or even death," and their use is associated with eating disorders, said Beth Mayer, executive director of the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association.


Eileen Merisola, a Brighton resident who now works in the veterans services field, said her body image issues began at the age of 5 and she took her first diet pills at the age of 12, buying pills at a drug store near her house without knowing what was in them.


In her 20s, Merisola began "starving myself intermittently" and taking supplements again, which she said were easier to buy than cold medicine.


"I was sick for a very long time. I lost my 20s to an insidious eating disorder that almost took my life," said Merisola, who said she is two years into recovery for anorexia and bulimia.