A new study sheds some light on the number of teen boys who are highly concerned with their appearance and physique.
Nearly one in 10 teen boys are highly concerned about their muscularity, according to a new study, with some turning to steroids, growth hormone derivatives and supplements to bulk up.
Researchers from Boston Children's Hospital looked at data from questionnaires taken by 5,527 boys ages 12 to 18, who were followed from 1999 until 2011. More than 90 percent of the boys in the study were white, and few were of low socioeconomic status.
Over that time period, they found that 9.2 percent of the boys were highly concerned about their muscularity, but did not exhibit any bulimic behavior (bulimia is an eating disorder marked by binge eating and purging). Meanwhile, 2.4 percent of the boys in the study were highly concerned about their muscularity, and turned to supplements, steroids and other products to "achieve their desired physique."
And 2.5 percent of the boys in the study were highly concerned about thinness, but did not exhibit any bulimic behavior. A little more than 6 percent of boys were highly concerned about thinness and muscularity.
"As expected, more males wanted bigger or more toned and defined muscles rather than thinness, the concern about physique that is relatively common among females," the researchers wrote in the study. "Of particular concern is that among 16- to 22-year-old males, 7.6 [percent] were very concerned with muscularity and using potentially unhealthy means to achieve their desired physique."
Concerns about thinness and muscularity were also linked with other conditions and behaviors, such as depression and substance use. For instance, being concerned about thinness, but not muscularity, was linked with a 2.72 higher odds of depressive symptoms. And being concerned about muscularity and thinness was linked with a 2.13 higher odds of drug use.
Meanwhile, being highly concerned about muscularity and using products to change physique was linked with a 2.06 higher odds of frequent binge drinking and a 2.16 higher odds of drug use.
The group identified in this study -- male adolescents highly focused on muscularity who use unhealthy products to achieve that physique -- "has been understudied in research and may be entirely missed by health care providers because they are not captured by the DSM-IV or the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for eating disorders," the researchers wrote in the study. "The DSM-5 criteria represent a large improvement, but future revisions will need to expand the diagnoses to better capture presentations more common among males."
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.