How teens are trying to obtain the ideal body

Twenty years ago, it was fairly uncommon to see shirtless men in the media and on TV, but now it’s common, so some pediatric researchers in Wisconson (USA) wanted to find how this cultural shift has changed the behavior of teen boys and girls.

Led by Dr. Marla Eisenberg of the University of Wisconsin, the researchers questioned 2793 boys and girls (average age 14.4 years) attending 20 urban middle and high schools in the Midwestern state of Wisconsin. They found that a large majority of teens have changed behaviors to try to attain the “large, lean, and muscular” ideal.

Here is what the researchers found (percentage of teens who changed behaviors to attain the ideal look):

Changed eating habits: 68% boys, 62% girls

Exercised more: 91% boys, 81% girls

Used protein supplements: 35% boys, 21% girls

Used steroids: 6% boys, 5% girls

Used other muscle-enhancing substances (such as creatine, amino acids, DHEA, or growth hormone): 11% boys, 6% girls

Now, thinking in the big picture, it could be worse. Teens could be sitting around playing video games and getting fat, so a majority of the behaviors the teens are adopting are actually fine, but there is a danger in two areas.

The greatest danger is in young people who take muscle enhancing substances or anabolic steroids. The supplements have not been studied adequately in growing teens, and the ingredients are not well regulated. Much worse are anabolic steroids— risky in adults, they pose much greater risks in growing kids.

According to Dr. Shalender Bhasin, chief of endocrinology at Boston Medical Center, steroids “stop testosterone production in men, leading to terrible withdrawal problems when still-growing boys try to stop taking them”.

Boys on steroids can, perversely, develop female-appearing breasts (gynecomastia), shrunken testicles, ruptured tendons, heart problems, increased aggressiveness and even violent behavior, amongst other problems.

Girls can become “masculinized”; develop increased body hair, a deeper voice, and decreased breast size, and some of these effects may be irreversible.

The other issue is damage from overtraining. Exercise is great, but too much, especially in young growing bodies, can lead to excessive injuries. Emergency room doctors say it’s not uncommon to see students arrive in the emergency room with overtraining injuries or problems secondary to anabolic steroids.

Like most things in life, moderation is the best approach: lots of exercise, a well-rounded diet with plenty of protein for muscle growth. If you have questions or concerns about yourself or your child, see your pediatrician, or a pediatric endocrinologist if you want the most complete evaluation or advice.

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