Sunday, December 16, 2012

Youth Steroid Use on the Rise...

A new study shows that about five percent of middle and high school students have used anabolic steroids to put on muscle, and that as many as one-third of boys and one-fifth of girls have used protein powder or shakes. Between five and 10 percent admitted to using non-steroid muscle-enhancing substances like creatine.

The findings came from a survey of more than 2,700 adolescents enrolled in middle school and high school in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Marla Eisenberg, lead author of the University of Minnesota study, said 5.9 percent of boys in the survey reported using steroids, while the rate among girls was 4.6 percent. Steroid use is a felony without a prescription.

The findings were surprising, Eisenberg said, especially since some of the steroid users were only in seventh or eighth grade. [1]

And remember these children were from Minnesota, not a football crazed southern state such as Texas or Alabama!  Just a sleepy mid-western state much like our own.  How could steroids use be a problem at a place like that?

The pressure to win, to look a certain way are powerful lures that can engulf a developing young person.  In the sports culture we are told that we have to get bigger, faster, and stronger and yet, no one really tells us how to accomplish this.

Coaches, trainers and parents though often well meaning need to be more careful about what they say to young people that can be easily influenced and look to us for guidance not statements.  If you make a comment like you need to get stronger or bigger you had better be prepared to provide that child with the recipe to do so.

Left to their own devices children will make poor decisions more often that not from lack of worldly experience and knowledge.  If I am kid and my coach tells me I need to get bigger and stronger I might visit the local vitamin/supplement store and get some “performance enhancing” powders and pills.  Or in the worse case scenario maybe they decide to talk to the big guys at the local gym and ask them for advice, they are big and strong after all…  More on why this is such a bad idea aside from the obvious reasons a little later on.  The obvious reason young athletes should avoid advice from bodybuilders; they might look like a statue but they also move like one. 

More often that not bodybuilders resort to weightlifting because they have figured out that because they can’t move like athletes at least they can try to build themselves up to look like one.  These individuals are nick-named “mirror athletes” because they want to look in the mirror and see an athletic-looking image, but they have absolutely no interest in trying out for any of the athletic teams.

In fact it is estimated that about half of the users of anabolic steroids are not athletes at all. They have no interest in competing – at least not on the athletic field. However, they are interested in competing for the attention of members of the opposite sex, and they are using anabolic steroids to look better.

A common thread shared by athletes that perform at a high level, they all move extremely well.  The ability to accelerate, change direction quickly and apply force to a swing, kick or throw requires coordinated strength and timing, two qualities that are greatly diminished by bodybuilding.  Sorry for the rant but I couldn’t resist.  Just remember when it comes to training to improve sports performance or performance in the game of life train movement not individual muscles!

Another compelling reason to avoid advice/contact with the big guys at the local gym…

Kids usually obtain steroids from body builders or weight lifters in local gyms. Often these substances will come from Mexico or the Internet. Most recently, over the past two years, a steroid ring of high school students was broken up in Utah, and another one last year in Arizona.

When surveyed, most kids say that they get their drugs from local distributors. Often those distributors are at the local private gyms. They are people who may approach the kids, or the kids approach them. The Internet is a readily available source for these substances; however, that does not negate the fact that many kids report getting anabolic steroids from local gyms. Rarely do they obtain them from a physician or veterinarian.

Linn Goldberg, MD, head of the division of health promotion and sports medicine at Oregon Health & Science University. [2]

Back to the issue at hand of the use of performance enhancing substances by still developing young people.

I recently spoke with a mother who told me that her son’s hockey coach (who happens to be a former NHL player) told the boy that he was to short to play goalie in the NHL… The boy is 12 years old!  I desperately want to go off on yet another rant but I am confident enough that you will acknowledge the absurdity of this bone-headed statement.  As result of this comment the parents want to do make their son feel better and decide to go out and get nutrition shakes to give to their son.

First point to make in this regard is the choice of nutrition shake was less than ideal (Ensure, even though I am sure it’s fortified with omega-3’s and probitocis-sarcasm alert!) but more importantly it could send a message to the boy that taking a supplement will solve the problem, it’s a solution.  Supplements are never the solution and in fact can be a precursor to a slippery slope toward more “advanced” performance enhancing substances.  The “under-sized” boy would make more progress toward his goal by dumping the drink and taking the comment from the coach and using it to focus his energy on things within his control like his practice and nutrition behavior.  This is where the guidance from parents and coaches becomes a necessity to keep a developing young athlete on the right track.

There are plenty of undersized athletes competing at a high level in all of the major professional sports leagues.  They have excelled because undoubtedly they have used the label of being to small or to slow to fuel their competitive drive.  They have had to struggle and compete for every opportunity.  They understand their size may be an obstacle but it will only stop them if they allow it to.  These athletes often maximize their abilities by refining skills to the point of near mastery and developing an attitude and competitiveness that creates a champion not only on the field of play but also in the game of life!

It’s not the size of the obstacle that determines your destiny rather it’s the size and depth of your commitment that defines what you ultimately become. 

To fall short of any goal as long as you pursue it with integrity and maximum effort will always leave you with a reward in the end, and more often that not it will be far greater than what you first set your sights on at the beginning of your journey.  However, taking a short cut to a goal may provide you with a positive result but even if no one else ever finds out you will always know your truth.  I wonder if Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds still believes it was worth cheating.  My guess is probably not because what they achieved was built upon a lie.  The riches may remain but they lose something along the way that they will never be able to get back.

The Hidden Truth:  Dietary Supplements

In 2009, Americans spent $26.7 billion on nutritional supplements, according to the Nutrition Business Journal, a trade publication.

What most of us do not realize is that supplement manufacturers routinely, and legally, sell their products without first having to demonstrate that they are safe and effective.   As a result, the supplement marketplace is not as safe as it should be. The labels also make absurd claims at times, and these are beyond any scientific proof. Thus, it’s always better to consult a doctor or sports medicines specialists prior to buying any of the bodybuilding supplement products.

Many people are unknowingly using anabolic steroids by virtue of the supplements that they are taking that are spiked with anabolic steroids.  Multiple studies have shown that as many as 20%-25% of the bodybuilding products sold over-the-counter in health food stores may be loaded (spiked) with anabolic steroids and other substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Many kids could be taking something that's not even manufactured with any standards or safety controls? The DSHEA Act of 1994 excludes the FDA from analyzing supplements that are sold in your local stores. Thus, it is truly, "May the Buyer Beware." Ephedra is a prime example. It took many deaths, heart attacks, and other adverse events to finally ban that substance after years of use and very dangerous consequences. The International Olympic Committee did a study that involved supplements in the United States. They found 18% of supplements were spiked with true anabolic steroids, although the label did not show them as containing these substances. So in the United States, because of this law, it is definitely buyer beware. [2]

It should also be noted that if a child goes into a supplement shop they are likely getting advice from a salesperson who very likely has no background in nutrition counseling let alone how to council youth nutrition.  Even if they are a credible source of information they can’t possibly know your unique needs and what, if any supplements are right for you.  Supplement use is definitely a topic that must be addressed first and foremost with your doctor or pediatrician.

Statistically Speaking

Many experts agree that about one million students – as many as 6% of all U.S. high school students-have admitted to knowingly using anabolic steroids. And the usage rate is on the rise.

In 1993, one in 45 high school students used anabolic steroids.

By 1999, the number was one in 27.

Today, one in 16 high school students admits to using anabolic steroids. (How many more continue to hide?)

More than 1 in 20 high school girls has already used anabolic steroids and the number of female users is increasing. In fact, the fastest growing user group is young high school girls.

It’s not an older kids’ problem, either. The median age of a student at first usage is 15.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that more than a half million 8th and 10th grade students are now using these dangerous drugs, and increasing numbers of high school seniors do not believe steroids are risky. [3]

Health Implications and Side Effects

Steroid use commonly causes severe acne and fluid retention, as well as several effects that are gender and age-specific:

For men—shrinkage of the testicles (testicular atrophy), reduced sperm count or infertility, baldness, development of breasts (gynecomastia), increased risk for prostate cancer.

For women—growth of facial hair, male-pattern baldness, changes in or cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris, deepened voice.

For adolescents—stunted growth due to premature skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes, and risk of not reaching expected height if steroid use precedes the typical adolescent growth spurt.

In addition, people who inject steroids run the added risk of contracting or transmitting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis. [4]

Steroid Abuse by School Age Children: A Guide for Parents and School Officials

Phil Loomis
Youth Fitness Nutrition Specialist


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