CHICAGO—A new study from the August edition of Pediatrics found that 8 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys surveyed said they used supplements to get a better body. While protein powders and shakes were most commonly used, steroids, growth hormone, amino acids and other substances were also listed among those unhealthful products tried in the past year.
After studying 10,449 predominately white, middle class, 12- to 18-year olds whose mothers participated in a Harvard-affiliated nurse’s health study, authors found a few factors that seemed to increase teens’ likelihood to use unhealthy methods. Those included girls and boys who reported thinking frequently about wanting more defined muscles and those who wanted to gain weight. Also, girls who wanted to lose weight were more likely than their peers to use the products, according to the study authors. Media also played a role in the study. Boys who read men’s, teen, fashion, or health and fitness magazines were two times more likely than their peers who did not read magazines to use products that were perceived to enhance appearance, muscle mass or strength. Similarly, girls who were making a lot of effort to look like female individuals in the media were significantly more likely than their peers to use products to enhance their physique.
Sports were another topic of investigation. Consistent with other cross-sectional studies, the study found that teens who lift weights or play football are at an increased risk for using creatine, amino acids, DHEA, growth hormone or steroids.
“It is unknown whether the association is attributable to encouragement from peers or coaches, but the topic warrants more investigation,” the authors wrote. “Because much of the research on prevalence and correlates of unhealthful approaches to increase muscle mass or strength has focused on steroids, little is known about the correlates of use of protein powder, protein shakes, creatine, amino acids, DHEA and growth hormone. Because these products are used more commonly than steroids, the public health significance of any adverse effects of these products could be considerable.”
The news wasn’t all bad though. Despite the number of teens using unhealthy methods to get fit, a sizable number are strength training – forty-four percent of girls and 62 percent of girls.