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YOUNG TEENS INCREASINGLY LOOKING TO BULK UP, STUDY FINDS

December 10, 2012

From The Orange County Register

Published November 21, 2012

By Landon Hall / The Orange County Register

Since the first skinny model graced the cover of a magazine, critics have complained that such images send an unfair message to women and girls: that they can and should look like that.

But these days, the ideal body type is more likely to belong to a man with six-pack abdominals, or a woman who looks ready to drop everything and run a triathlon. So young people appear to do whatever they can to get bigger and stronger, even if it means engaging in dangerous behavior.

A study released this week in the journal Pediatrics warns that young teenagers are building up their muscles in greater numbers than previously thought.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota surveyed 2,793 boys and girls from 20 middle and high schools (average age 14.4) from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Among the boys, 34.7 percent said they used protein powders or shakes for "muscle enhancement," and 5.9 percent said they had used steroids. Among the girls, 21.2 percent used protein powders or shakes, and 4.6 percent had used steroids.

The study's authors cited the unrealistic body types for both genders portrayed in the media.

"The male body has become more visible in advertising, with a stark increase in the proportion of undressed men beginning in the 1980s, and representations of 'ideal' physiques in children's action figures have evolved to be more muscular than even the largest human bodybuilders," the study said. It adds: "Research regarding media images of women has focused almost exclusively on thinness as the cultural ideal for femininity, but there is some indication that modern media figures combine slenderness with a toned and firm look that was not emphasized in previous generations."

Dr. Chris Koutures, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Orange County, is a specialist in sports medicine who served as the team physician for the U.S. men's and women's volleyball teams at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Many young athletes come to his Anaheim Hills practice and ask "How can I get bigger, how can I get thinner?" Many put pressure on themselves to excel in varsity sports, he said, or they feel pressure from their parents.

Koutures tells patients that without hard work, "it's not gonna happen." Weight training should be done with proper instruction, emphasizing technique and using moderate amounts of weight, while avoiding "maxing out."

Koutures says kids should choose food ahead of supplements as their primary source of protein: snack on peanut butter and jelly, a protein bar, even chocolate milk. Tuna is an excellent source of creatine, an organic acid that aids in muscle-building.

"American kids, especially boys, get plenty of protein, so supplements are probably not necessary," Koutures said. "If they can get it through their diet, that's the safest way to go."

Contact the writer: lhall@ocregister.com or 714-796-2221

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