Participation in sports with real or perceived weight requirements, such as ballet, gymnastics, and wrestling, is strongly associated with unhealthy weight control behaviors and steroid use in teens, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota.
Research published in the March 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found nearly 6 percent of males between the ages of 12 and 18 who participated in weight-related sports induced vomiting within the week prior to being surveyed, as compared to only 0.9 percent of males who did not participate in weight- related sports. The use of diuretics within the previous year was reported by 4.2 percent of males in a weight-related sport, as opposed to 0.8 percent who did not participate in a weight-related sport.
Steroid use was reported in 6.8 percent of females who reported participating in weight-related sports, compared to 2.3 percent of those that weren't active in a weight-related sport. Vomiting and using laxatives were also more likely in girls who were active in weight-related sports.
"The link between unhealthy weight-control behaviors and weight-related sports, especially in boys, is alarming," said Marla Eisenberg, Sc.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School Department of Pediatrics. "Parents and coaches should emphasize skill and talent instead of weight and body image and educate teens about the negative health effects of steroid use and extreme weight control."
Researchers surveyed over 4,500 middle and high school students from the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. The students were asked if they had engaged in self-induced vomiting, used diet pills or laxatives, or used steroids within the previous week and year.
Steroid use in teens peaks at young age, but overall use has not increased
In a separate study, published in the March 2007 issue of Pediatrics, University of Minnesota researchers surveyed the same teen population again five years later. They found that steroid use among teens peaked at 5 percent in middle school boys and girls, but as they grew older, steroid use declined significantly.
"It is encouraging to see that the majority of young people who reported using steroids in 1999 stopped using them as they got older," said Patricia van den Berg, Ph.D., lead author of the study from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "But even given this decline, between one and three in 100 teens still reported using steroids within the last year when asked again 5 years later."
Researchers conducted the longitudinal study with more than 2,000 adolescents to examine changes in eating patterns, weight, physical activity, and related factors over five years. Participants completed two surveys, one in 1999 and one in 2004, to determine if there were changes in steroid use.
Overall, 1.7 percent of boys and 1.4 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 23 reported steroid use in 2004. Those that reported use early on were 4 to 10 times more likely to use later in life.
Boys who reported wanting a larger body in 1999, as well as those who said they used healthy weight-control behaviors, were more likely to take steroids when they were older. In contrast, girls who were heavier, less satisfied with their weight, and who had limited knowledge of healthy eating and exercise habits were more likely to take steroids as they grew older.
The study found no significant change in steroid use overall among teens from 1999-2004. "Our research suggests that the increased media coverage surrounding steroid use among athletes in recent years hasn't led to a huge rise in steroid use in young people," said van den Berg.
Anabolic-androgenic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone, testosterone. They are typically taken to increase muscle mass and strength for either improved sports performance or enhanced appearance. These steroids have significant negative effects on the body's muscles, bones, heart, reproductive system, liver, and psychological state.
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