weightsMuch has been said about the unhealthy “thin ideal” for women perpetuated in American media, but less has been said about the new emphasis on muscular, lean bodies.

Affecting boys and girls, this new ideal may seem like a good thing – especially since we also hear so much about the obesity epidemic in our country. But parents, beware. There are ways to improve the body in healthy and unhealthy ways.

A recent study of muscle-enhancing teenage behaviors published in Pediatrics offers concerning evidence that boys are negatively affected by popular media images of male bodies that are large, lean, and muscular.

Boys who report dissatisfaction with their bodies are doing some good and some bad things to achieve this ideal. More than two-thirds of boys reported changing their eating patterns, and more than 90 percent exercised more to increase muscle mass. If they are taking these steps in healthy ways with realistic goals in mind – more power to them.

Unfortunately, one-third of boys said they regularly used protein powders and 6 percent admitted to using steroids. Both protein supplements and steroids can have serious health consequences, including kidney failure and heart-muscle enlargement.

Similarly, girls are trying to achieve the muscular and lean look, both in healthy and unhealthy ways. More than half of teenage girls in the study said they’ve changed their eating habits to build muscle; two-thirds exercised more; 8 percent used protein powders; and 1 percent used steroids.

Parents, talk to your teen about their body image. Acknowledge that eating right and exercising to feel good is great. But trying to force their body to look like an air-brushed model is neither good for their health or their self confidence.

If you’re concerned and would like some support in talking with your teen about fitness and body image, call us at Eugene Pediatrics. We’re here to help you every step of the way.