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How to Talk to Kids about Sports Supplements and Drugs

A recent survey found approximately 1 million young people, ages 12 to 17, have taken potentially dangerous performance-enhancing supplements and drugs. Ninety-seven percent of those surveyed knew of the potential for health danger in taking the supplements. In addition, the survey showed that one in five American youths surveyed knows someone who takes sports supplements to enhance athletic performance or appearance.

As kids head back to school and begin their fall sports routine, parents and coaches should get serious about educating these kids about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs and strongly urge the government to provide stricter guidelines for the marketing of these products to minors.

Michael Kelly, MD, chief of the Division of Sports Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, spoke with the Early Show about the issues involved.

Why is there such an increase in the number of kids taking performance-enhancing supplements?

I think some of it has to do with both men and women competing at these levels, so there are many more athletes competing. Kids are feeling pressure. Advertisers promote the strength of the drugs, being able to run faster, lift more, etcetera, and don't talk about the dangerous side of these products.

Children today have tremendous access to professional athletes thorough the media, so they see them performing at their peak. For example, baseball player Mark McGuire beat the home run record a few years ago. In addition, there is not a uniform restrictive code outlining drugs that are prohibited in sports across the board.

How do kids get their hands on these drugs?

Commonly used supplements and drugs include creatine and steroids. Anabolic steroids are extremely dangerous and are either prescribed or purchased illicitly. Bodybuilders use them a lot, and kids see these guys in the gyms working out. Anabolic steroids have significant hormonal side effects.

You can buy performance-enhancing supplements over counter at the corner drugstore. The supplements come in various forms, including protein powders added to drinks or pills. Creatine can be purchased at the nutrition store. It's promoted as a strength enhancer. You can allegedly work out harder, longer, and your muscle recovers quicker.

How dangerous are performance-enhancing supplements or drugs to kids?

We don't understand yet the long-term side effects on their other organs and the skeletal structure in growing kids.

What about side effects?

What happens with steroids is significant hormonal effects occur. If you overload the hormone system, an imbalance occurs.

Are parents usually aware of their kids taking these drugs?

I think parents are usually surprised to find out their kids are using supplements or drugs. I don't think most parents know. I was surprised to read in the study that 37% of parents were concerned about te kids using these drugs. It's incredible to find out almost 390,000 kids between ages 10 and 14 have tried performance-enhancing drugs.

How should a parent approach their child about using performance-enhancing drugs?

Prior to this survey, I would not have spoken to my 10-year-old about it. But now I will. I would use an awareness approach. If an article or a story on television initiates the subject for discussion then that's the time to talk about it.

Is there any way to tell just by looking at a kid whether or not he or she is taking performance-enhancing supplements?

I don't think so. You have to bring it up and I don't know how open they will be.

What can kids take instead of over-the-counter performance-enhancing drugs to enhance their athletic performance?

I don't recommend they replace it with any other supplements. They should learn more about sports training. Diet is very important and many kids do not have a well-balance diet.
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