A study in today’s issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reveals that boys are more concerned now than in the past with building their bodies up to look more muscular. Data from around 1400 boys (average age 14), was collected regarding their muscle-building behaviors. While the data revealed that both girls and boys are seeking to enhance their muscular appearance, the figures were higher for boys. Nearly 40% of the boys said that they exercised regularly to add muscle mass, thirty-eight percent said they used protein powders, and almost 6% said they had experimented with steroids.
To some extent this is a normal developmental process, since boys in adolescence are undergoing rapid changes in their bodies, and, more importantly, are becoming acutely aware of their bodies in relation to those around them. I remember going through a phase during my own adolescence when I was trying desperately to gain weight and add muscle mass by weight-lifting and drinking protein supplements to attract girls.
What’s different nowadays, however, is that there are so many images of overly muscular men in the mass media, from video game super heroes and greased-up body builders on television, to bulked-up action figure toys and steroid abusing sports heroes in the daily news. Boys are being exposed to these “role models” just at the time, developmentally, when they are most vulnerable to images of “what the male body should look like.”
Of course, it’s a good thing that boys want to exercise, and even some nutritional supplements may not be out of place, but over-doing it in these activities, and more importantly, experimenting with steroids, tips the balance over into dangerous territory, where boys could be seriously endangering their health, and creating negative habits that could become crippling if carried into adulthood.
What’s the solution? Certainly, education is key. The Pediatrics article suggests that sports physicals in school may be an appropriate time to initiate conversations on care of the body and the value of reigning in the tempatation to over-do it, not only out on the playing field (where sports injuries are a growing hazard), but in the gym and the nutritional supplement store as well. And with so much attention focused on sports figures like Lance Armstrong doping to improve their performance, special attention needs to be given by parents, teachers, and coaches to the dangers of steroid use. Here are some links to find out more information about steroid abuse and the “bulking-up” behaviors of boys in today’s mass media culture:
For more information about young adolescents and body image, see my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students
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