Want to slim down and flatten your stomach? Sip this tea — at least that’s what the advertisements say.
They come with a pink backdrop, celebrity endorsements and the promise to look and feel like Hollywood elite. But a closer look reveals these “get skinny fast” products pack what could be a dangerous mix of herbal ingredients engineered to flush out your system.
Councilman Mark Levine has introduced legislation to ban the sale of the tea and other similar products to minors after learning about their danger from a staffer whose relative died after consuming them.
“We learned about the rising prevalence of these products by social media. Appetite suppressants have been around since the 80s, but it’s really Instagram, celebrity endorsers of no less fame than the Kardashians who have been pushing this,” Levine said.
Often sold in health supplement stores and packaged as “natural” supplements, these teas and similar products are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, sold to anyone and aggressively marketed to young buyers through platforms like Instagram.
Sharon R. Akabas, Director of MS in Nutrition at Columbia University said young consumers are even more susceptible.
“Specially, young adolescent girls are extraordinarily vulnerable to false promises, to products that are going to help them achieve bodies that are possibly unrealistic and unhealthy for them. The influence of a peer group and the social media and this false promise if you do this quick thing you’re going to be like that person that you admire, that just sets up a perfect storm,” Akabas said.
Iman Hariri-Kia, who has written extensively about her experience with detox teas said she grew dependent on the drinks, consumed them for years until eventually developing serious complications to her digestive system.
“I started using detox teas when I was 15, 16 years old. I didn’t really realize the gravity that the products held because they were so widely available to me. At the time I didn't realize this, but I was developing a form of bulimia,” Hariri-Kia said.
Not considered medication, these supplements are not regulated by the FDA, a spokesperson for the agency did not comment on the proposed legislation. In a statement, they said, “We advise all consumers to talk to their doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional before deciding to purchase or use a dietary supplement. Also, if claims sound too good to be true, they probably are.”
The products do include a disclaimer advising users to consult with their doctor, but experts say those warnings simply don’t go far enough. We reached out to the Flat Tummy Tea Company, but the company did not return our request for comment.
Levine’s legislation would require proof of ID to purchase the products and impose violations of up to $500 for those caught selling to minors.
We reached out to the Kardashian family which has defended endorsements before, but did not hear back. In recent months, backlash against the products has exploded, at times with other celebrities suggesting the products put young women at risk.