- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Getting a sculpted look is a goal for many U.S. teens — and although some are using dangerous supplements to get it, sizable numbers of girls and boys are engaging in more healthy strength training, a survey found.

Eight percent of girls and 12 percent of boys surveyed said they used supplements in striving to become more buff. Protein shakes and powders were the most commonly used, but teens also listed steroids, growth hormones, amino acids and other potentially unhealthy products among items they had tried in the previous year.

With obesity on the rise, on the one hand it’s encouraging that many teens try to look fit, said lead author Alison Field, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. But there’s “a fine line” between fighting obesity and using potentially unhealthy methods to achieve potentially unrealistic goals, she said.

“Our results would suggest that some of these kids have gone right past healthy to something unhealthy,” Miss Field said.

The report appears in the August edition of Pediatrics, being issued today. It was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and cereal maker Kellogg Co.

Miss Field said the large number of youngsters thinking about getting toned or actively trying to achieve the look suggests that at least some likely have unrealistic expectations about how their bodies could or should look.

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.

About 30 percent each of boys and girls said they frequently thought about wanting more defined muscles. Forty-four percent of girls and 62 percent of boys said they had participated in strength training. That activity was not defined, but it likely included weight lifting, Pilates and yoga, Dr. Field said.

Boys who read men’s, fashion or fitness magazines and girls who said they wanted to look like famous women were more likely than other youngsters surveyed to use supplements to enhance their physique.

About 15 percent of the girls and 23 percent of the boys were chubby or seriously overweight. About three-fourths of the youngsters participated in team sports, and most were white and from at least middle-class families.

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