Teenage boys who pump iron
and pop steroids in hopes of improving their appearance may be at risk for
binge drinking and drug abuse, a new study suggests.
This kind of behaviour is
really a type of eating disorder, said lead researcher Alison Field, an
associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in
Boston. Many people are just familiar with anorexia and bulimia as eating
disorders, and they typically believe young women are the only ones who
struggle with body image, she added.
"Our findings show
that there are males out there who are extremely concerned with their weight
and shape, and they may be doing really unhealthy behaviours to achieve their
ideal physique," she said. "But they are not trying to get thinner,
they're using products to help them be bigger."
Unfortunately, the dangers
don't end there. Boys who are "super concerned" with their physique
and use steroids or growth hormone are twice as likely to begin binge drinking
and start using drugs, Field said.
Field's study of more than
5 000 teen boys found that about 2.4% were very worried about their masculinity
and also used supplements. These boys, like girls who starve or purge to lose
weight, are susceptible to other risky behaviours, such as binge drinking and
drug use, she noted.
Body image a problem
Doctors and parents need to
be aware that body image can be a problem among young men, Field said.
"They need to tell
them that changing their physique is not going to change their world. They need
to help them evaluate themselves on things other than their weight and
shape," she said.
This area, Field said,
hasn't been studied, so whether the problem is growing isn't known. Because the
issue hasn't been recognised, doctors and parents don't look for it or make the
connection between body image concerns and risky behaviours, she said.
"We live in a society
where we are constantly bombarded with messages about weight," Field said.
"If your son or your daughter evaluate themselves by their image in the
mirror, that's a problem and you need to talk to them."
One indication the problem
may be increasing is the current obsession with the sculpted body promoted to
young men by clothing manufacturers and the media, Field said.
A lot of photographs young
people see are completely altered, airbrushed and retouched, so what they see
as an ideal can't be achieved, she said. "And males are just as influenced
[by these images] as females," she noted.
Long-term health implications
Dr James Garbutt, a
professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,
said one of the most intriguing aspects of the study is the idea of using
males' preoccupation with muscularity as a parallel marker to females'
preoccupation with thinness. "Failure to acknowledge this in males may
lead to an underestimate of disordered eating and mental distortions in young
men," said Garbutt.
"We know there is a
complex interplay between eating problems, self-image and use of substances
including alcohol, drugs and supplements," he explained.
"We need to better
understand the underpinnings of these connections from a genetic/biological,
family/peer and cultural perspective, and we need to understand the long-term
health implications in order to determine who may need treatment and what
treatment should be given," Garbutt added.
For the study, Field's team
collected data on more than 5 550 teen males who were between 12 and 18 years
old in 1999.
They followed these
adolescents until 2011. During that time, 9.2% said they were very concerned
with their muscularity but didn't show any bulimic behaviour (binging and
However, 2.4% said they
were concerned about muscularity and used supplements such as growth hormones
or steroids to enhance their build.
In addition, 2.5% were very
concerned about being thin but didn't show any bulimic behaviour, and 6.3% were
also concerned about being thin and their muscularity, the researchers found.
According to Field, boys
concerned with thinness but not muscularity were more likely to develop
symptoms of depression, while boys concerned with muscularity and being thin
were more likely to use drugs.
Boys concerned about
muscularity that used steroids or growth hormones were more likely to start
binge drinking and use drugs, the researchers found.
Dr Metee Comkornruecha, an
adolescent medicine specialist at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida, said
"this confirms that body image concerns are associated with psychological
issues. "What we are seeing in boys is more rampant than what we have seen
in the past," he added.
"There is a push by society for young men
to look a certain way, and some feel that by using drugs they can get that
appearance and, in turn, that's how they feel better about themselves."
“Parents need to be aware
of how their kids feel about themselves. If they are overly concerned about
their body image, they may need professional help," Comkornruecha said.
For more on eating
disorders in boys, visit the National Eating Disorder Association.