Body images shown in popular media of Western culture have grown increasingly large, lean, and muscular, and teens’ body dissatisfaction has simultaneously increased. Many boys and girls have turned to muscle-enhancing behaviors to achieve the looks presented by media.
The study, “Muscle-Enhancing Behaviors Among Adolescent Girls and Boys,” in the December 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Nov.19) examined more than 2,700 adolescents at 20 urban middle and high schools to determine their use of muscle-enhancing behaviors.
These behaviors were defined as changed eating habits, increased exercise, and use of protein powders, steroids and other muscle-enhancing substances. The authors found that among boys, more than two-thirds reported changing their eating to increase their muscle size or tone, and 90 percent exercised more to increase their muscle mass or tone. Unhealthy behaviors were also prevalent: 34.7 percent used protein powders or shakes; 5.9 percent reported using steroids; and 10.5 percent reported using some other muscle-enhancing substance. Girls were similarly involved, with a large majority changing eating and exercise habits, 21.2 percent reporting using protein powders, 4.6 percent using steroids, and 5.5 percent using other muscle-enhancing substances.
The authors recommend that pediatricians and other health care providers ask their adolescent patients about muscle-enhancing behaviors. Sports physicals may present an opportune time for these discussions.