When it comes to body image, large, lean and muscular is in, and it's "extremely common" for teenagers to turn to diet, exercise, protein powders or steroids in hopes of bulking up and enhancing muscle development, a study finds.
Although these techniques are most often seen among boys, in some cases they are nearly as widespread among girls, says the study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Asked about methods they have used to increase their muscle size or tone, 2,793 middle school and high school students (average age 14) in Minneapolis/St. Paul said they:
• Changed eating: 68% boys; 62% of girls
• Exercised more: 91% boys; 81% of girls
• Used protein powders or shakes: 35% boys; 21% girls
• Used steroids: 6% boys; 5% girls
• Used other muscle-enhancing substances such as creatine, amino acids, hydroxyl methylbutyrate (HMB), DHEA, or growth hormones: 11% boys; 6% girls
Researchers did not collect data indicating whether eating changes were healthy or unhealthy nor how much or what type of exercise was adopted. Almost 12% of boys and 6% of girls, however, reported using three or more of the general muscle-enhancing behaviors, "indicating a relatively high level of use," says the report.
The findings suggest that "increasing muscle strength or mass or tone is an important piece of body image for both boys and girls," says lead study author Marla Eisenberg, professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine. "Kids really are seeing that as a goal."