Some teens try to get buff from a bottle
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Many teenagers wish for a toned
physique, and some turn to dietary supplements or hormones to
get one, according to a new study.
Researchers found that among more than 10,000 12- to
18-year-olds, roughly 5 percent of boys and 2 percent of girls
regularly used some purported muscle enhancer — most commonly
protein powders or shakes, but also dietary supplements such as
creatine and amino acids.
A handful said they frequently used steroids or other
hormonal substances — namely growth hormone or the
over-the-counter supplement DHEA — and more had at least tried
such products in the past year.
Though relatively few teens in the survey used supplements
and hormones, it’s still cause for concern, according to the
study’s lead author, Dr. Alison E. Field of Children’s Hospital
“Any percentage is troubling, particularly when you’re
talking about kids this age,” she told Reuters Health.
While protein powders may be fine, there are clear dangers
to using steroids, Field pointed out, and the long-term effects
of dietary supplements sold as performance enhancers are
She said the study, which is published in the journal
Pediatrics, also points to a larger issue: if use of
muscle-building substances was relatively uncommon, body-image
concerns were not.
About one-third of the teenagers said they often wished
they were more “toned” or “defined,” and these teens were more
likely than their peers to use a muscle-enhancing product.
Preoccupation with getting toned, Field and her colleagues say,
may constitute a common but overlooked body-image problem for
both boys and girls.
Body-image issues are usually viewed in terms of girls who
are obsessed with being thin. But these findings, Field said,
show that both boys and girls feel pressure to attain some
In the study, boys who read men’s or health and fitness
magazines were twice as likely as their peers to use a
muscle-enhancing product. The same was true of boys and girls
who said they were “making a lot of effort” to look like a
particular person in the media.
That doesn’t mean media images caused the teenagers’ body
concerns, Field noted. But regardless, she said, the finding
suggests kids need a dose of realism to counter those images of
impossibly toned physiques.
“We need to make children more media-savvy,” Field said.
For one, she added, kids should know “how doctored those
“They’re trying to attain an impossible ideal.”
The study is based on data collected in 1999 from a
long-term study of weight change in adolescence. More than
10,400 12- to 18-year-olds filled out questionnaires on body
image, media exposure and use of several products designed to
boost muscle mass and strength.
Overall, 10 percent of boys and 8 percent of girls had used
a protein powder or shake some time in the past year. Four
percent of boys had used creatine, a protein in muscle that
helps supply energy for short bursts of activity; some research
suggests supplemental creatine improves muscle mass and
strength, but side effects include cramping and dehydration.
The long-term safety of the supplement is unclear.
Other supplements included hydroxy methylbutyrate (HMB), a
substance produced in the body when muscle tissue breaks down,
and DHEA, a synthesized version of a hormone produced by the
adrenal glands that can be converted to testosterone and
estrogen. The long-term safety of each is unclear, and in the
case of DHEA, potential side effects include elevated blood
pressure, lowered levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and liver
SOURCE: Pediatrics, August 2005.