Is your high school student using steroids to bulk up?

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2012-11-19 12:37

The use of anabolic steroids by professional athletes to enhance performance is a common media topic. According to a new study, the use of these substances begins in high school—and even middle school—by both boys and girls. Researchers affiliated with the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota) and Columbia University, New York, New York) published their findings on November 19 in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers note that media images of men and women have become increasingly muscular, and muscle-enhancing techniques are available to teens. Therefore, they noted that the identification of populations at risk for unhealthy muscle-enhancing behaviors is of significant public health importance. They designed a study to examine the prevalence of muscle-enhancing behaviors and differences across demographic characteristics, weight status, and sports team involvement.

The study group comprised 2,793 diverse adolescents (average age: 14.4 years) who attended 20 urban middle and high schools. The majority of teens surveyed were poor or middle-class. The researchers assessed five muscle-enhancing behaviors: changing eating, exercising, protein powders, steroids, and other muscle-enhancing substances. They developed a summary score that reflected the use of three or more behaviors. The data was analyzed in regard to differences in each behavior across age group, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, body mass index (BMI) category, and sports team participation.

The investigators found that muscle-enhancing behaviors were common among the students for both boys and girls; however, most behaviors were significantly more common among boys than girls. Not taking gender into account, they found that 34.7% of the students used protein powders or shakes and 5.9% reported steroid use. When they adjusted the data for all variables (i.e., grade level, race/ethnicity, BMI category, and sports team participation), muscle-enhancing behaviors were commonplace. For example, overweight (odds ratio: 1.45) and obese (odds ratio: 1.90) girls had significantly greater odds of using protein powders or shakes than girls of average BMI. (The higher the odds ratio above 1, the higher the usage.)

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