A large scale US study has found that an increasing number of adolescent boys are taking dietary supplements and steroids in a bid to “get ripped” and fit in with society’s image of the ideal man. This obsession with muscle mass can also lead to increased binge drinking, depressive symptoms and consumption of illegal drugs.
Muscular teen picture from Shutterstock
Most studies about body image and its effects on self-esteem tend to focus on teen girls. However, it would seem that their male counterparts are equally obsessed with looks, particularly when it comes to muscle development. A US study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) analysed 5527 males aged 12 to 18 years between 1999 and 2010. The group answered regular questionnaires relating to muscularity concerns, general happiness and narcotics/alcohol use.
The researchers found that adolescent boys who are concerned about building muscle and who use supplements to enhance their physique were more likely than their peers to start binge drinking frequently and use drugs. Many also developed higher levels of depression.
9.2 per cent of the boys in the study reported high concern with muscularity but no bulimic behavior; 2.4 per cent reported high concern about muscularity and used supplements, growth hormones or steroids to enhance their physique; 2.5 per cent had high concern about thinness but no bulimic behavior and 6.3 per cent reported high concern about thinness and muscularity.
The males with high concerns about muscularity and thinness were more likely than their peers to use drugs, including cocaine, crack, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, magic mushrooms, crystal meth and amphetamines. Males with high concerns about muscularity who used supplements and other products to enhance physique were more likely to start binge drinking frequently.
“We observed that by late adolescence and young adulthood, 7.6 per cent of males were extremely focused on wanting more toned or defined muscles and using potentially unhealthy products at least monthly to improve their physiques,” the report explained.
“This large group has been understudied in research and may be entirely missed by health care providers because they are not captured by the DSM-IV or the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for eating disorders.”