Teens use supplements to make their body image look better

New study shows that nearly a third of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys and girls want to change their body image. Teens are increasingly turning to supplements to enhance their appearance and the users appear to be heavily influenced by the media.

In the study, researchers surveyed about 10,500 teen athletes and nonathletes about their use of any substance to improve their appearance, muscle mass, or strength, Xinhua reports. The results showed that 12% of boys and 8% of girls reported using such products. Nearly 5% of boys and 2% of girls used them at least weekly.

The most commonly used products were protein powders and shakes. Others, used predominantly by boys, included creatine, amino acids, the amino-acid metabolite HMB, the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), growth hormone, and anabolic steroids.

Researchers say the study suggests that just as teenage girls may resort to unhealthful means to lose weight, teenage boys may also resort to unhealthy strategies to achieve their desired physique.

"More and more media images show people with sculpted physiques. It used to just be scantily-clad women, but now, you see more and more of images of men with physiques that are impossible for most people to attain," study author Alison E. Field, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who also works in the division of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital in Boston, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

The vast majority of both sexes read magazines - although the girls tended to read women's, teen, fashion and health/fitness publications, while the boys were much more likely to read sports-related glossies, according to Forbes.

The authors found that those girls who did read sports magazines were more likely to use body-enhancing products, as were boys who read men's magazines. The researchers did not, however, find a similar association between TV-viewing habits and the use of such products. Nevertheless, 4 percent of the boys said they went to great strides to look like men and boys they saw in the media, whether on TV or in the movies or magazines.

In terms of actual physical condition, the researchers found that while 23 percent of the boys were either already overweight or at risk for being overweight, only 15 percent of the girls had a similar problem.

Perceptions about body image did not follow the reality, however - with body dissatisfaction numbers reversed. About 47 percent of the girls revealed body image concerns, compared to 36 percent of the boys. As for wanting more toned or defined muscles, 33 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys were found to be thinking often about the issue.

Field and her team emphasized that it remains unclear whether media-exposure habits are the trigger for, or the reflection of, adolescent body image issues.

But they concluded that the issues themselves - whether losing weight or increasing muscle mass - are real and potentially harmful to a significant number of both girls and boys. The frequent use of body-enhancement products, however, remains relatively rare, they noted - more commonly involving boys than girls.

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