“Bodybuilding supplement creatine too easy for teens to buy, experts warn,” read a headline on CBS News from Jan. 3. The story reported on the new study, titled Dietary Supplements and Young Teens: Misinformation and Access Provided by Retailers, conducted by researchers of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.
In the study, multiple research personnel posed as 15-year-old high school athletes seeking to increase muscle strength and contacted 244 supplement stores, including national chains and non-national retailers, across the US via telephone.
“Researchers asked the sales attendant what supplements he/she would recommend. If a sales attendant did not mention creatine or testosterone boosters initially, each of these supplements was then specifically asked about,” the researchers wrote. “Supplement recommendations were recorded. Sales attendants were also asked if a 15-year-old could purchase these products on his own in the store.”
Majority of retailers recommended creatine
A total of 164 of 244 sales attendants (67.2%) recommended creatine, 38.5% without prompting, and an additional 28.7% after being asked specifically about it. Regarding availability for sale, 74.2% (181/244) of sales attendants stated a 15-year-old was allowed to purchase creatine, whereas 41.4% (101/244) stated one could purchase a testosterone booster.
From this result, the researchers concluded “pediatricians should inform their teenage patients, especially athletes, about safe, healthy methods to improve athletic performance and discourage them from using creatine or testosterone boosters,” and added that “retailers and state legislatures should also consider banning the sale of these products to minors.”
CRN: “There is no known safety issue that would prevent healthy people from using creatine’
Commenting on the report and its media coverage, Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, said that “there is no known safety issue that would prevent healthy people from using creatine.”
“As with any supplement, creatine is intended to supplement a healthy diet in combination with other healthy habits. Creatine—or any sport supplement—is not a shortcut or a substitute for the hard work and training that is required to excel in athletics,” he said.
He added: “Out of an overabundance of caution, some companies that manufacture creatine have noted on the product labels that it is not recommended for people under the age of 18. This recommendation is to encourage responsible use by its consumers; this does not suggest any safety concerns.”
He argued that extreme measures such as putting the product behind a counter “will only make a product more enticing for that specific population looking to be protected and unnecessarily limit access and availability for all consumers.”
CRN: ‘Safe supplement use in teenagers requires education, opening a dialogue with parents, coaches, doctors’
“Dietary supplements, including creatine, can play a valuable role in supporting healthy lifestyles for people of all ages, and it is especially important for younger populations—such as adolescents and teenagers—to discuss their dietary supplement use with their parents, coaches, doctors or other healthcare practitioners,” Mister added.
“Retailers can be an important resource for consumers when it comes to making health decisions, and so we urge retailers to be part of the efforts to educate consumers on smart dietary supplement use, including encouraging consumers to open a dialogue with an on-staff pharmacist or registered dietitian, or their own doctor or other healthcare practitioners.”
NPA: 'What evidence is there the stores were doing anything incorrectly?'
Dr Dan Fabricant, executive director and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA) said in an official statement: "What evidence is there the stores were doing anything incorrectly? If anything, they were recommending a product with a great deal of science behind it. There is no evidence that creatine, when used consistent with the label, is harmful. In fact, creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements on teenage athletes, and its safety record is very well established. NPA offers extensive education programs for over 650 retail stores representing over 1,0000 retail members about how to speak to consumers and help them make informed decisions about the safe use of dietary supplements."