With all the focus on the childhood obesity epidemic, we’d be foolish to think that teens don’t care about their bodies. In fact, the vast majority of teens reported in a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics that they’ve changed their eating and exercise patterns to gain muscle or look more in shape. But the University of Minnesota researchers, who two years ago surveyed nearly 2,800 adolescents in the Minneapolis area, found that teens were also turning to protein shakes, creatine pills, and, more rarely, steroids to build their muscles. One-third of boys reported using muscle-building supplements and 6 percent said they tried steroids — with overweight teens more likely to use them. About 1 in 5 girls said they used some kind of muscle-building supplement and 4 percent reported trying steroids. Most of these teens were minorities from poor backgrounds, and nearly 60 percent played on at least one sports team.
The American Academy of Pediatrics “strongly condemns the use of performance-enhancing substances and vigorously endorses efforts to eliminate their use among children and adolescents,” according to its website. Protein supplements can cause excess weight gain, and there have been anecdotal reports of kidney problems in teens who have used them. Creatine has been associated with muscle and stomach cramps, dehydration, and possible kidney problems, according to the AAP. The group says it’s fine for adolescents to lift weights as long as they don’t overdo it .