The use of muscle-enhancing behaviors and substances, including steroids, is substantially higher than previously reported, according to research from the University of Minnesota published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
The survey of 2,793 Minnesota teens at 20 Twin Cities schools found most were doing something -- typically working out -- to boost their muscle mass; however, 5.9 percent of boys admitted to using steroids in the past year.
Among all teens, about 35 percent used protein powders or shakes in the past year and 11 percent used some other muscle-enhancing supplement, like creatine. Most of those behaviors were significantly more common among boys.
More than 90 percent said they exercised specifically to boost muscle mass, and 41 percent of those boys said they worked out "often" in the past year.
At least 45 percent reported changing their diets with the goal of bulking up at least "sometimes," while 19 percent used protein supplements sometimes or often.
The survey found 64 percent of girls exercised to increase muscle mass or tone, sometimes or often, in the past year.
About 43 percent changed their diet in the past year, and about 8 percent used protein supplements.
WHY IT'S CONCERNING
Lead researcher Marla Eisenberg, ScD, MPH, says the findings are concerning for a number of reasons -- chief among them the obvious risks of steroid use.
Steroids can be detrimental to a still-developing body, and side effects range from acne and unwanted body hair to heart attacks and liver disease.
Yet Eisenberg said behaviors like exercise or diet changes, which may not raise a red flag among parents, can be negative if young people do it purely in pursuit of a certain body ideal.
"We specifically asked whether they were doing those things to increase muscle mass or tone," Eisenberg said. "If a kid is often exercising for that reason, it might point to body-image concerns."
And protein shakes? They're not necessarily a concern, but could be an unhealthy option if they're used to replace real food.
ABOUT THE FINDINGS
The statistics from the Twin Cities study are slightly higher than figures from other recent studies. But since the students came from one metropolitan area, the data may not reflect national trends.
See the research at http://bit.ly/ROQbR3
WHAT PARENTS SHOULD DO
Parents should be concerned, Eisenberg said, if they see signs their child is overly interested in their body type. Warning signs include sudden shifts in diet, exercise habits and constantly checking their appearance in the mirror.