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Teens want more muscle, some use steroids to get there

November 19, 2012|By Mary MacVean
  • A man shows his muscles to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during a book signing.
A man shows his muscles to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger… (Associated Press )

Teenagers are bulking up, with almost 35% of male teens using protein powders and 6% using steroids, according to a study in the Journal Pediatrics that also found a significant number of girls engaging in similar behavior.

Rates are higher than previously reported and are “cause for concern,” the researchers wrote in the article published Monday. Doctors should talk to teenagers about whether they’re doing anything to enhance their muscles and assess whether that behavior, including changing their diet and exercise, is healthy, the researchers from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University said.

Young people are exposed to bodies in advertising, action figures and other outlets that “have evolved to be more muscular than even the largest human bodybuilders,” they wrote. “Boys’ body dissatisfaction has simultaneously increased.”

And for girls, modern media figures combine slenderness “with a toned and firm look that was not emphasized in previous generations,” the researchers said.

The study included 2,793 adolescents -- with a mean age of 14 -- at 20 middle and high schools in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during the 2009-10 school year. The students were asked about five muscle-enhancing behaviors: changing eating habits, exercising more, using protein powders and shakes, using steroids, and using other muscle-enhancing substances.

Among boys, more than two-thirds said they had changed their eating habits to increase muscle size or tone, and more than 90% said they exercised more to do so. Among boys, 34.7% used protein powders, 5.9% used steroids, and 10.5% said they used another substance.

Among girls, the numbers were 62.3% for changes in eating habits, 80.7% for exercising, 21.2% for protein powders, 4.6% used steroids, and 5.5% used another substance.

For both genders those responses include use rarely, sometimes and often. The researchers noted that almost 12% of the adolescents reported using three or more of the behaviors.

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