Adolescents Looking To Bulk Up Turn To Controversial Steroid Use

Lawrence LeBlond for – Your Universe Online

The new “in” when it comes to body image is large, lean and muscular. And to get that way, many teenagers are turning to diet and exercise, protein powders, and more worrisome, steroid use, in the hopes of enhancing muscle development. And although these techniques in the past have been mainly seen among boys, in some cases it is nearly as widespread among girls, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday.

The data comes from a study of close to 2,800 kids and teens at 20 different middle and high schools in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The study, which took place during the 2009/10 school year, found that Asian students in the study were three to four times more likely to have used steroids in the past year than white students. Marla Eisenberg from the University of Minnesota and her colleagues noted that most of the Asians involved in the study were Hmong.

According to Eisenberg´s research, about five percent of middle and high school students have reported using anabolic steroids to put on muscle. In addition to steroid use, more than a third of boys and a fifth of girls in the study also reported using protein powder or shakes to bulk up, and between 5 and 10 percent used a non-steroid muscle-enhancing substance, such as creatine.

These findings suggest that “increasing muscle strength or mass or tone is an important piece of body image for both boys and girls,” said Eisenberg, professor of pediatrics at the UMINN´s School of Medicine. “Kids really are seeing that as a goal.”

And it´s not just a behavior isolated to athletes, she said. Students who said they did not even play sports were reporting muscle-enhancing efforts.

Eisenberg thinks the media may be one factor driving teens to do more to get their body toned, another could be pressure from athletic instructors.

Dr. Linn Goldberg, of Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said the pressure for kids to start using steroids starts in high school. “You get the influence of older teens in high school, so when you’re a 14-year-old that comes in, you have 17-year-olds who are the seniors, and they can have great influence as you progress into the next stage of your athletic career.”

Eisenberg said teenage interest in building their physiques is nothing new. What is new, however, is a social and cultural emphasis “not just about having a healthy physique,” but about achieving the “perfect” muscular body, which ultimately is “just one more cultural ideal that young people find hard to achieve.”

As a result, the good reason teens have to be physically active–skill development, having fun and general fitness–run the risk of being overshadowed by the goal of looking like someone in a magazine ad or an athlete in their favorite sport, she said.

And given greater awareness of performance-enhancing and muscle-building substances, teens know there are many different ways to bulk up, many of which “are not recommended and not safe, but may be quite effective,” Eisenberg explained.

This study is a reminder that parents need to be aware that these behaviors are going on and that they need to be discussed with their children, noted Joel Brenner, medical director of the Sports Medicine Program at Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, Va., and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF).

Steroid-use is particularly dangerous and should be avoided, but inappropriate changes to diet or exercise can also be hazardous, he added. Parents need to stay aware of their child´s goals and make sure their activities remain “part of an overall fitness program,” Brenner told USA Today´s Michelle Healy.

Eisenberg said in the majority of those surveyed, student-athletes were more likely than their peers to use most methods for muscle-building, but steroid use was equally common for both athletes and non-athletes.

The study also showed higher adolescent use of steroids and other muscle-building substances than most other research has shown previously, and is “a cause for concern.” However, it isn´t clear whether the findings would apply to an area outside of the Twin Cities, or among wealthier students, as the research focused mainly on the poor and middle-class.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic versions of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Steroids are generally prescribed to treat conditions involving hormone deficiency or muscle loss, but when they are used for non-medical purposes, it is often administered at much higher dosages, according to the National Institue on Drug Abuse.

Overuse of steroids can cause mood swings, can stunt growth and, in younger kids, can accelerate puberty. Steroid use has become mainstay in professional sports, including baseball, football and boxing. Experts have worried that the drive to get ahead at any cost could trickle down to college athletes and also to high school and even middle school athletes.

Goldberg, co-developer of the ATLAS & ATHENA program to prevent steroid and other substance use on high school teams, said it’s important to give teens healthier alternatives to build muscle.

“I would stay away from all supplements, because you don’t know what’s in them,” Goldberg, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Genevra Pittman of Reuters Health.

“What’s important is to teach kids how to eat correctly,” he said. Goldberg said getting enough protein through food, eating breakfast and avoiding muscle toxins like alcohol and marijuana can all help young athletes get stronger without shakes or supplements.

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