In the largest study to date on adolescents' views of their bodies and their use of hormones and supplements, one in eight boys and one in 12 girls reported using such products in the past year to improve their appearance, muscle mass or strength.
Based on a nationwide survey, the study, out Monday in the journal Pediatrics, shows a high rate of concern about body image in both boys and girls and finds that teens who worry about body image are much more likely to use hormones and dietary supplements to try to enhance their physiques.
Almost 5% of teenage boys and 2% of girls use potentially unhealthy products ranging from protein powders to growth hormone and injectable steroids at least weekly to improve appearance or strength.
"The take-home message here is that we really need to think about body-image dissatisfaction in boys as well as girls," says Alison Field, a Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics and lead researcher on the study. "Both are influenced by the images they see in the media, which can be unrealistically thin for girls and unrealistically muscular for boys," informs USA Today.
Dr. Eric Small, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on sports medicine and fitness, said he suspects supplement use was underreported, because other studies have suggested that teens' use of steroids alone is more prevalent.
Dr. Small helped write an academy policy statement published in April that says performance-enhancing supplements are unproven and under-regulated and should not be used by children or teens. He was not involved in the survey.
"Everyone wants a quick fix," but lifestyle changes generally are more effective, he said, adding that teens should seek healthy lifestyles rather than try to emulate a certain look. "Working out is definitely a good thing, but you have to work out for the right reasons."
The study was based on a survey conducted by Dr. Field and colleagues in 1999 of 10,449 children ages 12 to 18 whose mothers were participating in a Harvard-affiliated study of nurses' health, reports The Washington Times.