Image-Conscious Teens Prone to Supplement Use
Teens Turn to Potentially Dangerous Supplements to Build Bigger Muscles
Aug. 1, 2005 -- Peer pressure and media images of buff bodies may be driving
a growing number of teenagers to turn to potentially dangerous supplements to
bulk up their bodies and improve their body image.
A new survey shows nearly a third of teenage boys and girls say they
frequently think about wanting more toned and defined muscles. Teens who feel
that way are up to twice as likely to try supplements to achieve those
It's the largest survey to look at the use of hormones, supplements, body
image, and media influences among teenagers. The results show that teens'
dissatisfaction with their bodies goes far beyond wanting to be thin and may
lead them to use potentially dangerous steroids, hormones, or other
Researchers say the study suggests that just as teenage girls may resort to
unhealthful means to lose weight, teenage boys may also resort to unhealthy
strategies to achieve their desired physique.
"More and more media images show people with sculpted physiques. It used
to just be scantily-clad women, but now, you see more and more of images of men
with physiques that are impossible for most people to attain," says
researcher Alison Field, ScD, an epidemiologist in adolescent medicine at
Children's Hospital Boston, in a news release.
"Girls' concerns about their bodies are well known, but I don't think
it's on parents' radar screens that their sons might have body concerns -- 'I'm
not big enough, I'm not strong enough, I'm not buff enough.'"
Body-Conscious Teens May Be at Risk
In the study, researchers surveyed about 10,500 teen athletes and
nonathletes about their use of any substance to improve their appearance,
muscle mass, or strength.
The results showed that 12% of boys and 8% of girls reported using such
products. Nearly 5% of boys and 2% of girls used them at least weekly.
The most commonly used products were protein powders and shakes. Other
products, used mostly by boys, included creatine, amino acids, the amino-acid
metabolite HMB, the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), growth hormone, and
"The Internet is full of sites where these substances can be purchased,
and many are advertised in popular health and fitness magazines with covers
like "Great abs in 5 minutes a day,'" says Field.
"Protein powders are probably relatively safe, but steroids have
well-known side effects, and some of the other products may not be so
Use of muscle-enhancing products was 60% and 200% more common among boys and
girls, respectively, who said they frequently thought about wanting more toned
or defined muscles than others. Boys and girls who said they were trying to
gain weight were three to four times as likely to use these products as their
Media Influences Teen Body Images
Researchers say the findings, published in this month's issue of
Pediatrics, also show that the media as well as peer pressure have a
major influence on teen supplement use and body image concerns.
- Girls who said they wanted to look like women in the movies, magazines, or
on TV were more than twice as likely as their peers to use supplements at least
weekly to increase muscle mass or definition.
- Boys who read men's, fashion, or health/fitness magazines were more than
twice as likely to use supplements at least weekly to increase muscle mass or
Weight lifting and playing football were linked to increased use of
supplements, particularly creatine, amino acids, DHEA, growth hormone, and
steroids. Researchers say it's unclear whether this association was driven by
media images of sports figures, peer pressure, or coach recommendation.