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Almost 1 in 10 teenagers have used harmful weight-loss products

According to a new study, around 9 per cent of adolescents – especially girls – have used non-prescribed diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics in their lifetime. As remarked by one of the authors, this is a ‘pretty big public health concern’ for young people around the world.

In 2023, social media inspired many of the ways we sought to improve our wellbeing – but not always for the better.

Some began self-diagnosing themselves after being bombarded with mental health content on TikTok.

Others focused perhaps too much on body image amid the ‘heroin chic’ resurgence and relentless influx of ‘what I eat in a day’ videos.

Most notably, discourse about weight-loss drugs spread like wildfire online, thought to be influenced by suspected reports of celebrities using them to shed a few pounds.

According to a database maintained by the US Food and Drug Administration, this amounted in an Ozempic shortage worldwide, leaving those truly in need of the medication unable to fill their prescriptions.

The Ozempic injection, which regulates blood sugar levels and insulin for patients with Type 2 diabetes by mimicking a hormone produced in the gut called GLP-1, shot to popularity due to its appetite curbing side-effects.

@aiiat #pharmacy #pharmacytiktok #pharmacist #pharmacytechnician #pharmacytiktok #pharmacyassistant💊 #ozempic ♬ original sound – Teigan💋✨

Today, the Ozempic hashtag has over one billion views, Variety has touted it as ‘Hollywood’s worst kept secret,’ Elon Musk has tweeted about it, and as people who don’t meet the indications for use continue scrambling to get their hands on it, risky alternatives have popped up in its place.

As a result of this craze, it’s recently been uncovered that almost one in ten teenagers have used harmful weight-loss products in their lifetimes.

This was revealed by a new global study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which after evaluating data from 604,552 children aged 18 and under who took part in 90 separate analyses from different countries, found that around 9 per cent of adolescents – especially girls – have used diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics without a prescription from a doctor.

It additionally found that almost half of this cohort had used them in the past month alone, which, as remarked by Natasha Hall (one of the study’s authors), poses a ‘pretty big public health concern for young people around the world.’

Warning of the dangers of over-the-counter weight-loss products, Hall explains that they’re problematic for both the physical and psychological wellbeing of young people.

This is in light of previous research that’s linked their use to eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, and substance abuse.

They’ve also been associated with poor nutritional intake in adolescence, and unhealthy weight gain in adulthood.

‘In a population who feel like they will do whatever it takes to get to lose weight, diet pills can be a very intriguing thing to add to the arsenal,’ the analysis reads.

‘It’s alarming how easy it is to access them and interventions are urgently required to prevent and regulate the use of weight-loss products in this population.’

Hall hopes that the research will prompt governments to consider greater restrictions on the sale of weight-loss products, especially those advertised on social media, where they remain primarily unregulated and openly accessible and where unrealistic beauty standards are rife.

‘These findings suggest that, given the ineffectiveness of these products for weight loss coupled with their harmful long-term health consequences, interventions are required to reduce use of weight-loss products in this group,’ she concludes.

‘There must be stricter laws to ensure that weight loss products are never sold to people with or vulnerable to an eating disorder.’