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Steroid Use: Hitting Closer to Home

Olympic scandals spotlight performance-enhancing drugs as number of kids using them grows.
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Younger and Younger Kids Use Performance-Enhancing Drugs continued...

And the kids taking these drugs are getting younger. Among 12th graders, 3.3% of girls and 6.4% of boys have used steroids at least once. But 7.3% of ninth grade girls -- and 6.9% of ninth grade boys -- have already been using these hormones.

Anabolic steroid use means that a child is flooding his or her body with a synthetic version of the male sex hormone testosterone. In boys, this has an array of ill effects. The effects of these performance drugs may be even more devastating in younger children. But in girls, the effects are even more harmful including menstrual abnormalities, deepening of the voice, acne, increased body hair especially in a male pattern, and enlargement of the clitoris.

"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."

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