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According to the results of a new study, teens were able to purchase potentially dangerous supplements at a variety of health food stores across the US, despite labels reading “for adult use only.” More troubling is the fact that the staff at certain stores recommended and endorsed specific products, although they were “for adult use only.”

Although dietary supplements have been regulated by the FDA since 1994 under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), no FDA approval is required to clear such supplements for sale on the marketplace. Instead, according to DSHEA, it is the responsibility of the manufacturer to assure the safety and quality of the contents for sale and distribution.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against using body-shaping supplements in those less than 18 years of age. However, it is still legal for minors to buy these products in 49 states, even though the products are labeled for adult use only.

In three recent studies by Drs. Ruth Milanaik and Andrew Adesman of Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, NY, 15-year-old boys and girls called 244 health food stores in 49 states—both independently owned and large-chain—to evaluate whether staff would recommend such products to minors.

The results of the three studies were presented April 26 at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego.

According to Milanaik, past studies have indicated the high incidence of minors—both athletes and non-athletes—using these products. And she stressed that it is vital that those who supervise and educate minors be aware of the inherent dangers associated with such supplement use.

Although there are strong recommendations in place from the AAP to avoid such products, teens with negative body images—including many diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder—are more frequently choosing to use over-the-counter supplements.

The important point to realize, according to Milanaik, is that supplements purchased from health food stores are not always “healthy.” Furthermore, the staff selling the supplements are not necessarily “experts” when it comes to selling well-known “fat burning” thermogenic products (such as Hydroxycut and Shredz), products containing creatine, or even testosterone boosters.

The researchers found that 41% of sales representatives told callers identifying themselves as 15-year-olds they could buy a “testosterone booster” on their own—even though many testosterone boosters contained warnings, “for adult use only,”

The findings are reported in a study entitled Over-the-Counter Testosterone Boosters and Underage Teens: Easy Access and Misinformation Provided by National Retailers.

And close to 10% of sales representatives, according to the study, recommended a testosterone booster, even though testosterone boosters are specifically not recommended for children under age 18—unless for documented medical reasons.

“Adolescents are being enticed by flashy advertisements and promises of quick, body-shaping results,” said Milanaik. “In this body-conscious world, flashy advertising of ‘safe, quick and easy body shaping results’ are very tempting to younger individuals trying to achieve ‘the perfect body.’ It is important for pediatricians, parents, coaches and mentors to stress that healthy eating habits, sleep and daily exercise should be the recipe for a healthy body.”

“Health food stores that advertise that their employees are ‘trained experts’ need to re-educate their employees and reinforce that these products are not recommended for minors,” added Milanaik.

Sales representatives at health food stores often recommend these products to underage female teens looking to lose weight, although the AAP clearly states that the use of weight-loss supplements is unhealthy for minors. This research Weight Loss and Underage Teens: Supplement Recommendations from National Retailers was the authors’ third study presented at PAS.

The bottom line, according to Milanaik, is that parents and teens should not assume that products coming from health food or vitamin stores are safe—or even recommended for minors.

“Health food stores need to focus not only on knowing what products to recommend,” said Laura Fletcher, one of the principal investigators, “but often more importantly, what products not to recommend for customers of certain ages and conditions.”

Products in the study such as Hydroxycut, Shredz and testosterone boosters generally have specific warnings that state “for adult use only,” according to Milanaik. These warnings are the results of prior research indicating documented negative health effects for minors.

“In the instance where warnings are clearly printed on supplement bottles,” said Fletcher, “sales attendants must be aware of the dangers associated with underage use.”

“The goal of ridding adolescents of body image-related insecurity in a healthy, supportive and medically-approved environment needs to be prioritized,” added Fletcher.

Health food store supplements do not always equal healthy, and health food store attendants are not always “experts,” urged Milanaik.

“All products should be checked for safety warnings regardless of who recommends the product.  If in doubt, call your doctor and/or consult the AAP website,” concluded Milanaik.

Source: Forbes Health