One-in-20 Middle and High School Students Uses Steroids, Says New Study

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A new study published in Pediatrics finds that almost six percent of the nation’s boys, and roughly 4.6 of the nation’s girls, in middle and high school report having used steroids - numbers researchers consider both “substantially higher than has been previously reported” and a “cause for concern.”

The report analyzed  “muscle-enhancing behaviors” - a set of five activities that range from dietary changes to use of anabolic steroids - of more than 2,700 students at 20 urban middle and high schools in the Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. area. According to researchers “muscle-enhancing behaviors” were fairly common in both male and female subjects, with almost 35 percent of the total male population - and about one-fifth of the total female population - reporting use of protein powders and shakes to gain muscle mass. Additionally, more than one-in-10 boys, and about one-in-20 girls, reported using non-steroid muscle enhancers, such as creatine, to build muscle. 

The study finds that muscle-enhancing behaviors were closely connected to several factors, including grade level, sports participation and body mass index (BMI). Students involved in team sports were more likely to be engaged in multiple muscle-enhancing behaviors, researchers said, while overweight or obese females had “significantly” greater likelihoods of using protein building powders or shakes than classmates with average BMI.

The authors of the report urge health providers and physicians to ask about the muscle-enhancing behaviors of their younger patients.

“Conceptualization of these behaviors should include frequent use of seemingly healthy behaviors (eg., changing eating and exercising) done with the goal of increasing muscle mass or tone,” the report concludes. “Although these may be beneficial, compulsive or excessive use is cause for concern, because they may be a precursor to the development of more severe and unhealthy behaviors over time.”