Taxing over-the-counter (OTC) diet pills and powders could decrease purchases of these under-regulated and potentially dangerous products—and could keep them out of the hands of teens, according to a new study co-authored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health eating disorders expert S. Bryn Austin.
Using consumer survey data, Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and director of STRIPED (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders), and co-author Nathan Tefft, an economist from Bates College, found that a 20% tax on diet pills or powders could lead to a 5.2% decrease in purchases of these products overall, a 17.5% decrease in families with children ages 12 to 17, and a 10.3% decrease among households with a daughter present.
“Children can be more vulnerable than adults to believing the deceptive advertising and false promises many of these products make,” the authors wrote in a National Eating Disorders Association blog. “Our study offers the strongest evidence yet that an added tax on diet pills could be an effective public health strategy to reduce the purchase of potentially dangerous OTC diet pills and powders sold for weight loss, especially for households that include teens or a daughter.”