More than Pumping Iron Among Teens

Muscle enhancing behaviors more often found among teenagers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Lifting weights for strength is one thing. When kids do it for looks on top of changing their diet and maybe their exercise habits, that's another.

About a third of guys and a fifth of girls alike are engaging in some not-so-healthy behaviors to make their muscles bigger, faster or more than normal, according to a new study.

"Prevention and intervention programs targeting muscle-enhancing behaviors among youth are needed for both boys and girls and should include parents, teachers, and coaches as well as youth themselves," researchers report.

"Don't use steroids."

In popular media, Hollywood shows what the ideal man and woman look like. Girls have often been concerned with body image in previous studies, but now boys are increasingly dissatisfied with the way they look.

And some are doing something about it, even in unhealthy ways.

Researchers, led by Marla Eisenberg, ScD, MPH, from the Division of Adolescent Health and Medicine at the University of Minnesota, aimed to see the muscle enhancing behaviors in more than 2,700 teenagers.

Behaviors included exercise and eating habits, as well as consuming protein powders, steroids and other substances.

Researchers gathered information from the Eating and Activity in Teens survey, which asks students about their physical activity, weight and diet, and scored when students had three or more of the behaviors.

Questions asked about the five different muscle-enhancing behaviors, such as, "How often have you done each of the following things in order to increase your muscle size or tone during the past year?"

The adolescents, averaging just over 14-years-old, came from 20 middle and high schools from the metropolitan area around St. Paul, Minnesota.

Researchers looked at the differences of each behavior across age groups, body mass index, and sports team participation. They also took race and socioeconomic status into account.

They found that more than two-thirds of the boys changed how much and what they ate to increase muscle size or tone.

Ninety percent exercised more to get the same results.

Both boys and girls consumed protein powders and shakes at about 35 and 21 percent, respectively.

As far as other unhealthy behaviors, about 6 percent of boys and 5 percent of girls took steroids, and 11 percent of boys and 6 percent of girls used other muscle enhancing substances.

Engaging in muscle enhancing activities is "influenced by factors beyond school, likely encompassing social and cultural variables such as media messages and social norms of behavior more broadly," the authors wrote in their report.

The authors also say that doctors and other healthcare providers should ask their young patients whether they are doing anything to grow or enhance their muscles.

"Although it is appropriate to promote physical activity in youth, which may have desirable benefits in terms of health and body composition, care should be taken to emphasize moderation in behaviors and to focus on skill development, fitness, and general health rather than development of a muscular appearance," researchers said.

The authors note their results come from a single state and may not be representative of the larger population.

Future research needs to be done, according to researchers, on a more diverse population across the country.

They also measured behaviors broadly rather than get detailed specifics. And researchers also had to rely on kids' reporting behaviors accurately, which may be swayed since part of the survey asked about illegal substances.

The study, published online November 19 in the journal Pediatrics, was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The authors declare no conflicts of interest. 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 17, 2012
Last Updated:
November 20, 2012