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Catherine Holecko

Muscle-building dangers

By November 21, 2012

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My husband and son are big fans of the Tour de France, but at only 7 years old my son is a little too young to have watched the Tour during the Lance Armstrong years. Although he knows that Lance is a very famous bike racer who may have cheated in order to win, he doesn't have a clear understanding of what doping is.

Sooner rather than later, we will have to talk with him more seriously about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. A study released online this week by the journal Pediatrics reports that "muscle-enhancing" behaviors by teens may be on the rise, and is "cause for concern."

The research covered a diverse sample of nearly 2800 adolescents and examined five muscle-enhancing behaviors. Two are potentially healthy: changed eating and exercise habits. Three are unhealthy: use of protein, steroids, or other substances.

Among boys:

  • More than two-thirds said they changed their eating habits to increase muscle size or tone
  • Over 90% added exercise to increase muscle mass or tone
  • Over one-third used protein powders or shakes
  • Just under 6% used steroids; Asian boys had elevated odds of steroid use compared with whites
  • About 10% used some other muscle-enhancing substance
  • Almost 12%, especially those who participated in sports, did three or more of these

Among girls:

  • A large majority changed eating and exercise habits
  • 21% used protein powders or shakes
  • 4.6% used steroids
  • 5.5% used other substances
  • About 6% did three or more of these

"As with boys, girls who are obese (or overweight, in the case of protein use) had significantly elevated odds of reporting these behaviors than those of average weight," the study states. "Sports team participation was positively associated with changing eating, exercising, and using protein powders/shakes."

The authors suggest that a societal focus on leanness and muscularity means that teens are engaging in these behaviors to boost satisfaction with their bodies (not necessarily for good health). The authors conclude that "health care providers should counsel adolescent patients about appropriate exercise, general nutrition, and the lack of efficacy and potential dangers of muscle-enhancement products."

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