Ask any teen if they’d like to be lean and muscular and most likely they are going to say yes. In fact more and more teenagers are turning to diet, exercise and protein powders to help them muscle up and lose weight. They are also using steroids and other muscle enhancing drugs in hopes of developing the “perfect body.”
Although boys most often use these techniques, girls are also turning to steroids in hopes of achieving more muscle and less fat.
A study released in the online journal Pediatrics, reports that 2,793 middle school and high school students were asked about the methods they used to increase their muscle size or tone. The average age was 14 and the students went to schools in the Minneapolis -St. Paul, Minnesota area.
The results showed that:
- 68% of boys; 62% of girls changed their eating habits.
- 91% of boys; 81% of girls exercised more.
- 35% of boys; 21% of girls used protein powders or shakes.
- 6% of boys; 5% of girls used steroids.
- 11% of boys; 6% of girls used muscle-enhancing substances such as creatine, amino acids, hydroxyl methylbutyrate (HMB), DHEA, or growth hormones.
The data did not indicate whether the diets were healthy or not or what type of exercise was adopted.
The findings suggests that "increasing muscle strength or mass or tone is an important piece of body image for both boys and girls," says lead study author Marla Eisenberg, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. "Kids really are seeing that as a goal."
Some experts on child health are concerned that kids are exercising, dieting, drinking protein drinks and using steroids not because they want to have a healthy physique but because they are trying to create what they think is the cultural ideal of the “perfect body.” Health and fitness are not their main objectives, looking a particular way is.
With an epidemic of adolescent obesity in this country, few people could argue that a healthy diet and exercise are bad ideas. However, when kids believe that they must look like someone in a magazine ad or a professional athlete to be accepted by their peers, they run the risk of trying unhealthy diet fads, over exercising and taking muscle- enhancing substances that can have serious side-effects.
This study is a reminder that parents and physicians need to be aware that these behaviors are going on and that they need to be discussed with their adolescents, says 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.
The use of steroids and other performance-enhancing substances is clearly dangerous and needs to be avoided, but inappropriate changes to diet or exercise can also be hazardous, he says.
Parents can help their teens keep fitness and health as goals by making sure they are involved with their children’s activities and by keeping communication open. Ask your child what they think the benefits of diet and exercise are, and listen carefully to his or her answers.
Healthy diet and active exercise are the tried and true ways to a normal body weight and healthy body. Protein powders or shakes are unnecessary if you’re getting plenty of high-level protein in your diet. Anabolic steroids can lead to stunted growth in teens, abnormal enlargement of the heart and liver damage.
These days even very young children are aware of body image. Television, movies, video games, and some toys tend to glorify a certain muscular physique that’s difficult to achieve and even more difficult to maintain. It’s important to know how your child perceives their own body and to talk them about the difference between being healthy and fit versus an idealized body projection.
Kids can look up what protein powders to take online and there are plenty of social media sites where teens can find support groups that promote unhealthy behaviors.
If your child shows an interest in weight lifting or changing their diet that can actually be a very good thing, just monitor their activity and make sure they are making these changes for the right reasons.