Steroid Use: Hitting Closer to Home
Olympic scandals spotlight performance-enhancing drugs as number of kids using them grows.
Younger and Younger Kids Use Performance-Enhancing Drugs continued...
"What is a concern is the predictable, long-term
masculinization of girls and women," Yesalis says.
"There is a serious health issue," Farnaz Khadem, spokeswoman
for the Montreal-based World Anti-Doping Agency, tells WebMD. "The use of
performance-enhancing products is happening earlier and earlier. And a lot of
these young people have no idea of what this is doing to their bodies. This is
a real health danger."
Why are kids doing it? Some want to improve athletic
performance. But many just want to look more like those slender, muscular
people they see in movies and in magazine ads, says William Roberts, MD,
president of the American College of Sports Medicine.
"There are a lot of kids at a high school level using steroids
to increase performance, but a lot of them are just trying to look better,"
Roberts tells WebMD.
And where would kids get the idea that this is OK?
"It is not just a young person thing," Roberts says. "Look at
all the plastic surgeons who are doing well. All kinds of people are nipping
that and tucking this and getting implants to make their calves look better. A
lot of people are dissatisfied with the way they are. Chemicals are one way to
change that. Away from athletics, you see that going on everywhere."
How Widespread Is Doping?
Some say the performance-enhancing drug use is widespread
throughout professional sports and elite athletic competitions. The recent
allegations in the ongoing BALCO scandal (involving charges against four of
America's most-beloved track-and-field stars) are just the tip of the iceberg,
"This canard that there are only a few bad apples in the barrel
is a subterfuge perpetrated by sports organizations. I've always argued that in
many sports there are only a few good apples, and that the majority of
athletes do drugs," he says. "Doping in sport is as big a secret as the army
Jeep is a secret weapon. Anybody in sports knows about it. It has been epidemic
since the last quarter of the 19th century. It is not debatable, it is a fact:
Drug use cuts across all sports."
Others maintain that it's a relatively small number cheaters
who give sports a bad name.
"Our view on that is the vast majority of athletes are clean,"
Khadem says. "It would be very discouraging to think this is systematic and
everyone is doing it. It has always been there, it may always have been there.
But the more people realize this is not right, the more I think people will be
inclined to fight it."
Yesalis says athletes take dope because fans are addicted to
"The frustration is this is not going to change because fans
don't care," he says. "I think what people are looking for is bigger-than-life
people doing bigger-than-life things. Performance-enhancing drugs facilitate
that. And that has made these sports and their federations multimillion-dollar
Roberts, however, says athletes and sports associations must
"I have a hard time blaming the public. A lot of the public
really doesn't understand how much drug use there is," he says. "It's like
fighting in hockey. The NHL thinks they need fighting to draw the fans. But it
is already a good, clean, fast sport with a lot of excitement. If you assume
you need fighting, and don't change the rules to make fighting disappear, is
the public to blame?"