University of Minnesota researchers have found that Twin Cities teens are using steroids and muscle-enhancing substances at higher rates than previously thought.
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.
"We've got some young people and in some cases pretty young, young people -- we're looking at middle schoolers -- who say they are using some of these pretty risky substances in order to increase their muscularity," Eisenberg said. "And that's something we need to be paying attention to."
Researchers did not ask students what motivated their steroid use. But Eisenberg said it's possible that children are responding to a shift in body sizes and shapes portrayed in the media, adding that male models and action figures today are much more muscular than a few decades ago.
In addition, she said students also hear a lot about doping in professional sports and may think it's normal.
Many of the students were athletes, but Eisenberg said steroid use was also prevalent among non-athletes and children who were overweight or obese.
She said that "some kids who look at themselves in the mirror and are really unhappy with what they see -- they're seeing that their bodies really don't conform to this cultural ideal at all -- may be trying whatever they can think of to get into a shape that they like better."
The study also found that 90 percent of boys and 81 percent of girls in the study were exercising more to increase their muscle mass.
The research appears in the online edition of Pediatrics.