More teens try to find bodies in bottles

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The labels promise everything from"unbelievable improvements in body composition" to the ability to "lose 30 pounds in 30 days."

The price isn't bad either, anywhere from $5 to $50 per bottle, depending on brand and quantity.

And just about anyone can walk into a health store and buy some.

With all that, local health professionals say it's not surprising that the use of dietary supplements among teenagers is on the rise.

"A lot of it has to do with trying to improve body image," said Lea Anne Lambert, a Cape Girardeau registered dietitian. "Teenagers see all those super models walking around and the men on TV are buff, and they get the idea that's what they should be like."

Lambert said the most recent survey she's seen showed that 12 percent of boys and 8 percent of girls from a total of 10,000 surveyed in the U.S. said they have used dietary supplements.

"That's a pretty high number when you think about a teen trying to improve their looks," said Lambert. "This age group is becoming more body conscious."

The supplements come in several forms, including tablets and powders that can be mixed into drinks.

One of the major problems with such products is that many of them are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

"A lot of people go to a health store and if they can buy this stuff over the counter they think it's safe," said Mark Ruark, athletic director at Central High School.

Ruark said he doesn't know of any specific situations, but believes it's likely Central students and those in other area high schools have tried such products.

Athletes, especially, are likely to use protein shakes and products such as Creatine, an amino acid that aids in muscle contraction. Short-term side effects of Creatine can include pulled muscles and muscle cramps. Long-term side effects are unknown.

"They think it will do a lot more than it really will," said Ruark. "And it may not be as safe as they think either."

Ruark said the issue is discussed in health classes and gym classes at Central. The Missouri State High School Activity Association also provides educational materials to discourage students from using such products.

"It's certainly a concern at Central, as it is for most high schools," said Ruark. "In the long haul, it could end up being deadly."

Lambert said it's very important for parents to pay attention to what their children are taking.

"If they have a question, they should contact their doctor or a dietitian," said Lambert.

For example, Lambert said protein powders are relatively safe, but may not be necessary.

"There may be something different they should do other than take a supplement, like eating right or doing the right exercises," said Lambert. "And they may have to save the fact that they're not going to bench press 300 pounds."

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