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Congress Hears Appeals For Restrictions On Diet Pills

September 24, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A couple whose daughter died after years of diet pill abuse asked a congressional panel Monday to push for restrictions on non-prescription weight loss drugs.

″She might have had a chance had these products been denied her as a child,″ said Anthony and Diana Smith, of State Center, Iowa.

Noelle Smith, 20, died a year ago of cardiac arrest after struggling since she was 14 with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, which is an avoidance of food, and bulimia, which involves binging and purging.

″She was constantly sneaking diet products into the house,″ said Mr. Smith. ″Every time we found and took from Noelle a box of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics, she would go to the corner store and buy a new supply.″

Jessica McDonald, 20, of Washington, D.C., said she suffered from the same eating disorders as a teen-ager and regularly consumed whole boxes of non- prescription diet pills at a time.

″Even though I went to the drug store practically every day to buy pills or some other product to help me lose weight, no one ever tried to stop me or asked what I wanted the pills for,″ said McDonald.

She said that ″at the very least there should be an age restriction to prevent young people from buying these drugs.″

Vivian Hanson Meehan, president of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, said at least one of 10 adolescents engage in dangerous eating disorders as they try to diet.

″The adolescent who reduces food amounts to starvation levels is playing havoc with his or her body’s viability,″ said Meehan. ″Children who begin dieting at an early age may delay or prevent menstruation because females need 18 to 22 percent of body fat for this purpose.″

Meehan also decried the availability of diet pills.

″Diet pills containing the drug phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, pose an additional and very serious health risk to adolescents,″ she said.

The drug is in most of the numerous, popular non-prescription diet products used by about 10 million consumers a year. Many medical authorities say it can cause high blood pressure, kidney disease, heart muscle damage, heart rhythm abnormalities and seizures.

The Smiths, McDonald and Meehan were among witnesses testifying before the House Small Business subcommittee, which has been investigating the weight loss industry.

A report from the subcommittee staff noted a University of San Francisco study of 500 girls which showed almost half the 9-year-olds and 80 percent of those age 10 and 11 were dieting, even though just 17 percent of the group was overweight.

″Our investigation found that juveniles are dieting more obsessively than ever, and that many are suffering adverse health effects and even death,″ said the staff report.

Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, has been after the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration to crack down on shady diet practices.

He said the FTC has 14 investigations under way of diet companies and diet programs.

But he criticized the FDA for being lax on enforcement.

″For almost a decade, the FDA has dawdled over regulations that would make it illegal to sell diet products containing about 100 ineffective ingredients,″ said Wyden.

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