You can find over-the-counter dietary pills and supplements at grocery and big-box stores all over New York state. But a new law is trying to limit their reach to the youngest demographic.

A law that goes into effect on Monday bans the sale of the supplements to anyone under the age of 18. Experts say they are underregulated and could have harmful health effects on kids.

“We don't know what's in the products. We don't know if they work. We don't know if they're safe,” said Harvard professor Bryn Austin.

He said dietary pills and supplements don’t go through the same regulation process as prescription drugs. Studies published through the JAMA Network and National Library of Medicine found the products can contain steroids, experimental or banned stimulants and other dangerous chemicals.

“We know it can increase the risk of stroke, of heart attack, of liver injury; sometimes, the injuries so serious that someone needs a liver transplant,” Austin said.

Austin said that these products are especially dangerous to young children, and they are marketed to kids who may feel uncomfortable about their appearance.

As the director of Harvard’s eating disorder prevention group, STRIPED, Austin said the new state law that prevents the sale of these products to anyone under 18 will keep kids safer.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out with reports urging clinician boards to talk to children about these products and encourage them to stop using them. They basically said that kids should not use these products for any reason,” Austin said. 

The law creates age-verification guidelines for retailers and delivery sellers. But Austin says the next step is to raise awareness to parents, letting them know that diet pills and supplements could be harmful.

“These kinds of products will not help kids lose weight. They will not help them build muscle, full stop,” Austin said. 

We reached out to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, whose members staged an unsuccessful court battle to prevent this law from being enacted, but have not yet heard back from them.