Avatar Diet: Being thin in "second life" can make you thin in your first?

Credit: RTI International

Credit: RTI International

The Avatar Diet: Does this Avatar Make My Butt Look Big?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Trying to get rid of that belly fat? Looking to thin down those thighs? Want to straighten out your body image and “combat obesity” while looking at your computer screen? It’s time to join the virtual world!

If you were ever wondering if a vitual representation of oneself (Second Life) could really have any influence on the fitness or appearance of the actual person in real life, according to one study out of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, it can.

The researchers at RTI suggest that having a physically fit and thin avatar may just be the next thing to put this “obesity epidemic” behind us.  I mean, who needs Atkins or South Beach when you can have The Avatar Diet? The researchers found that having a thin and physically avatar fit may encourage individuals to become healthier and more physically fit in their real lives.  Yes– that’s right– people are more likely to engage in physical activities in their real lives if their avatars in Second Life engage in physical activities.

“Based on these preliminary results, it seems likely that virtual reality users may adjust their identity to be consistent with that of their avatars,” –Elizabeth Dean (research survey methodologist at RTI and the study’s lead author)

The results suggest that 80 percent of respondents who reported high levels of physical activity for their avatars reported participating in high levels of physical activity in their real lives. This is where it really gets strange for me though– this link is suggested to be causal (the avatar is thin which causes the person to go and get fit too)– rather than a simple correlation (the avatar is thin AND the person is thin). It seems logical that if someone was to make a representation of themselves, that if they were “fit” and going to the gym, they would make their avatar do so as well.  It would “represent” them.  Not sure where the causal link idea is coming in– especially because good research does not suggest causation– simply, correlations.  But I digress…

Another aspect of the study showed that if the participants were interviewed by a thin avatar for this study rather than an obese avatar (this is just getting strange), the participant would be more likely to confess a higher BMI (Body Mass Index).  In addition, almost 3/4 of participants, when interviewed by the thin avatar, told the interviewer that their avatar was also thin.  But when interviewed by the obese avatar, only 1/3 of participants described their avatar shape as thin. Apparently, people like to bend the truth about their own bodies in Second Life around thin avatars.  Geez.  Just like high school again.

Interestingly, the virtual world is becoming a place where some health professionals are sending their clients for treatment.  Since people are apparently influenced by their avatars, and want to live up to what they put out there in the virtual world, hanging out in Second Life could make a difference in one’s first.

Are they creating virtual gyms and virtual low cal meals too? This one remains to be seen.  Considering that this study was only done with 27 participants (a very low research number which provides very low power to the results), we can’t totally buy what these researchers are saying. And of course there is the lingering question– does size really matter?  Does it really have to?

But no doubt, people will give “avatar diet” a shot.  No quick pill to lose weight this time– just a quick dose of Second Life.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Do Latinas and African American Girls Have Better Body Image?

do ethnic girls have better body image?

Do Latinas and African American Girls Have Better Body Image?

Dr. Robyn Silverman

A new localized study caught my eye this morning because it talked about a discrepancy in the way Latinas viewed their bodies in comparison to the way that mainstream American women view their bodies. In particular, the researchers suggested that the Latinas they followed wanted to lose weight due to health reasons rather than for looks. So do Latinas have a more positive body image? What about African American girls and women?

While it’s been suggested for quite some time that Latinas and African American women have a more positive body image than their Caucasian counterparts, the sample size of this study was quite small (35 Mexican American immigrants) so more research to add more confidence to the researchers conclusion are necessary. The fact that these women were born and raised in another country certainly makes it much more likely that they would have a better body image than girls and women in American who are constantly exposed to media that makes them feel inferior and “less than.”

Studies don’t always agree on the topic. Of course, while middle to upper class European-American families tend to be the focus of most empirical research on body image, all social classes and ethnic groups are becoming increasingly affected as shown in the research produced in the last 20 years.

What if the Latinas were born in the United States? Body image plummets. The American Association of University Women found that Latinas between the ages of nine and fifteen actually maintained a negative body image and those who were “happy” with themselves dropped by 38% as they increased in age. More recent studies explain that Latinas born in the United States, and thus exposed to American culture, are more likely to prefer a smaller size and express the same concerns about their body shape and weight as European-American females. These girls believe that they are too fat and should strive for a thinner body. In fact, Latinas were recently reported to have the lowest levels of body satisfaction than any other girls in the United States (Robinson). Even the youngest children are compromised.

While there have been hints of body image problems among Asian-American and African-American adolescent girls, lack of ethnically diverse research has caused such concerns to remain overlooked. In the recent past, studies have shown that the leanest 25% of Asian-American girls were significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies than European-American girls. In addition, although it has been shown in earlier studies that African-American girls are most secure with their bodies as a result of the cultural tolerance among African Americans for larger women, and lower incidence of weight-related discrimination than their European-American counterparts, African-American girls are not immune to American weight issues. It has been recently noted that there are no racial differences between black and white girls in their efforts to lose weight or to practice chronic dieting (i.e. Schreiber)

Not surprisingly, concerns have been voiced about young African-American girls’ recent exposure to very thin African American media models and actors and their possible negative influences on body perceptions and attitudes. Interestingly, in the last five years there have been a significant amount of weight loss concerns among prominent African American celebrities such as talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey, and others, found that Black female stars in the film, music and fashion industry are now just as thin as their European-American counterparts. Girls just don’t feel that they are “enough.”

Such unachievable ideals have been on the rise in European-American culture as illustrated by the models featured in many well-read magazines, on the internet, and on television during the last several decades and this trend has been blamed for America’s weight obsession. However, thinner, more diverse media personalities are fairly new to the African American population and culture and are likely raising weight awareness in more diverse communities.

We’ll talk more about this in my upcoming book which will be out in 2010. Would you like to conttribute a story to it? Please do!

Dr. Robyn Silverman signature

Girls are Diet Doping to Lose Weight

Weight and women

Dangerous Diet Doping: Being Thin at all Costs

Dr. Robyn Silverman

As we know, “feeling fat” has become a common part of everyday life for girls and women. Dieting is the norm. Complaining about weight is a expected and encourages. And doing anything you can to achieve the perfect thin body, accepted and supported.

A recent online poll of 993 teens and women has suggested that an alarming 1 in 10 girls and women are using drugs to lose weight. Were they in an unhealthy range for weight? Nope. Two thirds of responders–67%– were in the healthy weight range. What does that tell us? The healthy weight range is not perceived as thin enough. Hollywood hard bodies and unattainable rock-hard abs are what we’re striving for. No matter what people say, the diet doping is not often linked to losing weight for health (how could it?), it’s linked to looks.

Many times, when attempting to lose weight, young girls subscribe to unhealthy practices such as quick fad diets or acts of purging including vomiting and laxative abuse instead of using a healthy regiment of exercise and maintenance of a balanced diet. Girls and women are looking for the quick fix– THINNESS NOW- not what’s going to make them healthiest in the long run. In doing so, they turn to what IS NOT healthy. In fact, in the poll, 10% of respondents to the poll owned up to taking stimulants like cocaine and speed, 26% said they were abusing diet pills or laxatives and one in 5 admitted to suffering form eating disorders. What’s healthy about that? It’s a practice I like to call “diet doping” and I’ll be talking about it in my upcoming book coming out in 2010.

Most people might think that the African American girls and the Latina girls steer clear of such practices. Nope. If you think it’s only the Caucasian girls you’d be wrong. The intense pressure to diet has amazing cross over affects. Studies over the last 25 years have shown that rate of these subclinical eating practices, dieting and purging, and diet doping are increasing among all social and ethnic classes.

It’s crucial that we begin conversations with our girls early about what it truly means to be healthy. In doing so, we must also commit to being healthy ourselves and refrain from criticizing ourselves, using destructive methods to lose weight, or applauding others who lose weight at all costs as being “disciplined” and “healthy.” Let’s get back to basics. I mean, remember when healthy meant having good balanced nutrition, energy, good support and well managed stress? Let’s go back to that. Who’s with me? Let’s do it.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

"Am I too fat, Mommy?" Kindergarteners with low body image

Tots Stress about Body Image

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Yet another study reveals that we’re messing up our children when it comes to body image even when children are as young as age 4.  Go us.

An Australian study performed with 53 children across 4 kindergarten classes revealed that parents and teachers are inadvertently sending messages about the “perfect body” to these youngsters.

“They do this by their attitude to their own bodies, and by suggesting to their daughter that they need to exercise more (to lose weight) and to their sons that they need to eat more (to increase their muscles),” said Marita McCabe, the lead researcher on the project.

Are we ever going to get this right?

One reader states:

Having had my then 7 year old come home from school last year saying repeatedly that she wanted to be ‘skinny’ (when she already is), I can relate to this. We turned it around by talking to her about how dangerous being too skinny can be – she had no idea that it could be bad for you but somehow knew that being fat was ‘really bad’ and that ‘exercise makes you skinny’. Advocates of the campaign against child obesity need to be very careful in targeting the PARENTS of obese children rather than issue blanket policies and directives across all children including those in the healthy weight range. Eating disorder admissions in the past six years – since the onset of this campaign have doubled and the average age of onset for eating disorders has come down from 16 to about 12. Anyone else seeing the writing on the wall?

–ab of melbourne

What are your thoughts on the topic?

[digg=http://digg.com/educational/Am_I_too_fat_Mommy_Kindergarteners_with_low_body_image]

Why Fat Girls Don't Go To College?

As you know, I’ve been studying girls, women and body esteem for quite a while. It’s so hard for girls to feel like they “fit in” when our culture sensationalizes thinness and rejects people who deviate from the media’s thin ideal. This cultural issue has a high cost. It isn’t only a problem because it creates a breeding ground for disordered eating behavior and low self confidence, but also because it can cultivate social problems such as bullying, ostracization, and academic failure to thrive.

A new study indicates that a supportive, respectful peer culture, which makes children feel as though they “fit in” is just as crucial to a student’s success as high academic expectations. Among the results was a finding that those students who were categorized as clinically “obese” were less likely to go to college than those students who were considered of medically “normal” weight. Perhaps not surprisingly, the issue was much more severe for girls than for boys.

Who did it? Robert Crosnoe and Chandra Muller

Where was it published? July issue of Sociology of Education

Where did the data come from? The ongoing National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health provided data from over 11,000 teens in 7th-12th grade from 128 schools in the US

What did he find? Teens who were categorized as “obese” tended to have to cope with more social isolation. They were less likely to go to college and take advanced classes even though their same-age peers were doing so. In addition, In school cultures in which students were less likely to be considered “clinically obese” and “overweight,” 61% of “obese” girls didn’t continue school. However, in a school in which at least 1/3 of students were indeed considered medically obese, only 17% of “obese” girls did not go on.

Gender Issues: Because body appearance is so central to girls, girls are more likely to compare themselves to their female classmates and peers around them than are boys.

“Your school and your culture affects how you view academics and your future. Social ups and downs are a big distraction…many of the kids said it’s hard to sit and do your homework when you’re worried about what will happen in school the next day.” (Crosnoe)

Overcoming the Odds: Kiss These Assets

  • How did some socially isolated students thrive despite their social issues? Here are their very important assets: Very supportive parents, at least one good friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend, and finding a niche in an extracurricular activity. Enrolling your child in a positive extracurricular activity where character, confidence, connection, individual competence, caring and compassion are stressed, such as in an academy that is using Powerful Words, is more important than ever. 

How did you fit into your school culture? How has your child found his or her place within the school culture? How do you see a powerful extracurricular helping this situation? Please share your “secrets” so we can spread the ideas to all those who can use them!

Please comment below.

Have a Great Day!

[digg=http://digg.com/health/Fat_Girls_Don_t_Go_to_College]

How Much Do You Pay For Beauty? Flushing Health, Wealth, and Happiness Down the Toilet

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYhCn0jf46U]

The High Cost of Beauty: Giving up Wealth, Health, and Happiness

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Friday Musings…

I believe it was 7th grade. One of my closest friends cried that she needed a nose job. “It’s way too big!” I thought she looked great. What did I know?

When I tried to persuade her not to do it, I’ll never forget what she told me; “Every time I look in the mirror, all I see is this nose. Beautiful people have little noses. Have you ever seen a model with a nose like mine?” She wound up getting one of those “model noses” for about $4000 from bridge to tip.

That year was my real initiation into the world of “beauty.” Or shall I say, “manufacturing beauty” from natural beauty. Make-up, hair, shaving (thank goodness we didn’t know much about waxing during the preteen years), tanning, “good jeans” and plastic surgery—it became apparent that play clothes and a little dirt on my face was no longer going to cut it. Admittedly, I had been a bit of a tomboy—having 2 older brothers who I wanted desperately to be like (I was convinced that I only wanted to wear pants– no skirts!)—and a tomboy wasn’t the best thing to be once you entered middle school.

We got a bit ridiculous. We’d put on our mother’s make-up and dress up like Madonna (remember those mesh ti-shirts and the lace bow in the hair?). We actually thought we looked good. We’d spend hours looking in the mirror counting pimples, pinching non-existent blubber and investigating “flaws” to complain about. We bought trinkets and bobbles and fluorescent purses (mine was pink). And we prayed that we’d grow up sooner so we drive a car, go where we wanted, and spend our own money.

I remember saving up to buy at least 50 of those rubber bracelets (my favorite was the pink “gummy one)—yes, I realize they were simply car parts and vacuum cleaner components now—but we all wanted them. I even remember my friends and myself painting ourselves with baby oil and literally lying down on tin foil to get that “natural glow.” Years later I realized that I could use the same procedure to bronze shrimp.

As bad as we were, it’s got to be worse these days. How much do girls and women spend on all those products that promise “more beauty than we could ever be born with?”

It turns out, probably more than we care to know. The YMCA released a report on the Consequences of America’s Beauty Obsession on Women and Girls to illustrate that we’ve been buying into a “Beauty at Any Costphilosophy.

Wealth pays a price:

  1. 11.7 million cosmetic surgical and non-surgical procedure in 2007
  2. A survey of young people showed that 69% of responders, 18 or older, are in favor of cosmetic surgery.
  3. ¼ of cosmetic surgery was performed on women of color, up 13% from the previous year.
  4. Workers with “below average looks tended to earn about 9% less money than those with “above average” looks

Beauty or brains?

One full year of college tuition and fees at a public instate college is $6,185. Five years of beauty products costs $6,423

Health pays a price:

  1. 67% of women (excluding those with bulimia or anorexia) are trying to lose weight
  2. 53% of dieters are already at a healthy weight
  3. 37% of women are concerned about what they’re eating
  4. 13% of women actually smoke in order to lose weight!
  5. Smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer deaths in the US
  6. 40% of newly-diagnosed cases of eating disorders are in girls only 15-19 years old. Symptoms can start as early as kindergarten.
  7. Over ½ of teen girls engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors such as fasting, skipping meals, smoking, and taking laxative

What’s the real cost of all that stuff we put on our faces?

Several ingredients found in US cosmetics have been linked to damage to the liver and reproductive system in animals. Europe has banned these ingredients. The US has not. In fact, in Europe, substances that can be used currently in the US have been called “carcinogenic, mutagenic, or toxic for reproduction and should be prohibited from use in cosmetic products.” –European Union Cosmetics Directive, 2003

Happiness Pays a Price

  1. Studies have found that girls who watch TV commercials with underweight models in them lost self confidence and were dissatisfied with their own bodies.
  2. Sexualization of girls have been linked with eating disorders, low self esteem, and depression.
  3. Aggressive bullying between girls has been on the rise since the 1990s.
  4. Relational aggression, a form of bullying, is related to their roles in culture. Women want to be attractive and men want to have attractive partners.

In a study of women, 80% of interviewed participants said that they competed with other women over physical appearance. These women are driven by an unhealthy belief that winning the looks competition will somehow gain them a husband, “the” career, or the self they desire.

So folks, should we dare to think about it? How much are we shelling out for beauty? How much are our girls—many of whom are going back to school—going to spend on “the right” clothes, make-up, hair, weight loss and skin to ensure that they look “their best?” And how is it that we’ve all been fooled to believe that “our best” means slathering ourselves with manufactured, unnatural products that are made in a factory?

So much for telling children and teens to just be themselves.

Please comment below. We’re really interested in what you have to say.

[digg=http://digg.com/health/High_Price_for_Beauty_Risking_Wealth_Health_and_Happiness]

pics form Jupiter Images

Girls Feel Too Much Pressure to Grow Up Too Fast, Study Says

Girls Feel Anxiety about Pressure to Fast-Track Their Development

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Between the magazine articles telling girls to lose weight, glossies teller her that she’ll never measure up , young celebrities withering away along with their clothes, models getting thinner and thinner, and the massive pressures in school and among friends to look the best, a generation of girls are being affected. Poor body image, poor body esteem, mental health issues, and low self worth abound.

Negative messages are everywhere. Even our daughter’s clothes and favorite dolls and toys are getting a boost, a lift, a pout, and a “push” to grow up sooner and sexier than ever before. Some, you just have to wonder, are the retailers kidding?

So who could be surprised that girls are showing some wear and tear from today’s sexualized, body-bashing culture? A recent study out of the UK reveals that the pressure to grow up too soon is one the greatest influences on girls’ well being, according to the girls themselves! The pressure to wear clothes that make them look older, entertain sexual advances from boys, lose weight according to the directions in the media, and even consider plastic surgery to “improve looks” were identified as pressures that were particularly damaging.

One participant explained: “When I was eleven I read a teenage magazine for the first time and that is when it kind of clicked, ‘I should be like this.’”

Here’s the scoop:

Who was studied? Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Qualitative (descriptive) information was collected through focus groups consisting of 54 girls, divided by age. Quantitative (the numbers and percents) data were collected through polls online, in which 350 girls participated.

By Whom: Girlguiding UK, the Mental Health Foundation, and leading researchers Opinion Leader.

What was studied? The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualization, commercialization and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behavior at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.

What did they find?

§ Mental Health Issues: Many girls reported that they had direct experience with friends and people who they knew who were suffering from some kind of mental health problem.

o Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed

o One third of the girls have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder

o Half new girls who were suffering from depression

o Almost two in five had friends who had experienced panic attacks.

o Many girls felt strongly that self-harm was within the spectrum of normal teenage behavior – as long as it happened infrequently– and was not necessarily an indication of a mental health issue.

o A sixth of those surveyed often feel angry

o Half admit they find anger hard to manage.

o Around a quarter often worry (28%) and feel like no-one understands them (25%) while around half find both emotions hard to handle.

§ Gotta Have It! Increased pressure to have money for the latest electronics and clothes means pressure for the girls.

o One-in-five girls report feeling anger and sadness

o A quarter of the girls feel worried or bad about themselves.

§ Fodder for Bullies? Girls felt that the growing check-list of “ideals” for young girls was giving bullies additional excuses to single them out – leading to stress, unhappiness and anxiety.

As one girl admitted: “If I get bored then I start becoming really aggressive.”

§ Is my body OK? Media is a major culprit.

o Looking at pictures of models, pop-stars and actresses makes a fifth feel sad, two-fifths feel bad about themselves and 12 per cent feel angry.

o Media stories that portray young people in a bad light make half the girls who took part angry (50 per cent), a quarter worried (23 per cent) and almost two-fifths sad.

· Read the full study: A Generation Under Stress

Study after study is showing that girls are under stress…and duress in their normal, everyday lives. Yet, our culture continues to churn out manufactured, thinned-out celebrities, sexualized play-things, inappropriate clothes, and media to deliver the 1-2 punch.

Now, more than ever, it’s vital that we provide our girls with positive role models, positive body messages, and positive activities and powerful environments that show them they are so much more than a 2-dimensional object there to be critiqued, criticized, and put-down.

What are your thoughts on this recent study? Any ideas with regard to what to do next? Yes, we need these girls to have a pivotal moment when they know they’re worthwhile—but even more than that—we need to promote positive development in these girls from the start so that this problem is markedly reduced in the first place. Otherwise, we are simply averting our eyes…aren’t we? I mean, how bad does it have to get before we pay attention?

Here’s to Making Our Girls Feel and Become Powerful–

[digg=http://digg.com/health/Girls_Feel_Pressure_to_Grow_Up_Too_Fast_Study_Says]

Boys and Body Image: The Adonis Complex and Steroid Use in Teens

Steroid Use in Teen Boys: Continuing the discussion…

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Powerful Parents are certainly a passionate bunch. I guess my article on steroid abuse among teens stirred up some good discussion yesterday in light of the cultural response to body image problems among our youth. Perhaps you were surprised that boys were affected just as girls have been affected. What else can we expect?

With so much concentrated focus on the war against obesity, it shapes up the insecurities in children who say to themselves, “I don’t want to be fat, I don’t want to be cast aside, put down, or put out, so I will do whatever it takes, even if it means putting my health as risk, to be thin, muscular, and admired. Is this the message we want to send to our youth—spooned to mouth by Hollywood starlets, He-man Gladiators, and appearance-driven magazines? To be thin, muscular and unhealthy rather than risk being called “overweight” or worse yet…“average?”

Research has shown that dieting and attending to one’s physique in negative ways has become so prevalent that the behavior of in a way, has become normalized. That means that those people who are NOT dieting, participating in some abnormal or disordered eating patterns, or trying to alter their body through surgery, drugs, or laxative abuse, are in affect, abnormal. One preteen in one of my Sassy Sisterhood Girls Groups said it clearly a few summers ago, “if you’re not dieting or something like it, you’re considered weird, snobby, kind of stuck on yourself, or like, NOT normal.” Great. What youth, whether we’re talking about a boy or a girl, wants to be abnormal?

So they reach out for assistance. They restrict food, they purge, they take laxatives, or they dope up with steroids. Well, what did we expect? Do you ever hear societal reverb recalibrated to say, “lose weight but don’t go too far?” Of “eat healthily, exercise wisely, and then accept yourself at the size your at? No. We hear…be better, faster, bigger! Be More! More! More!

I did an interview a few month’s back for a teen website in which I was asked about boys and body image. Here is a part of my answer:

Boys are dealing with something that is now informally being called “The Adonis Complex”—named after the Greek mythology figure Adonis who was half man and half god—he was considered the ultimate in masculine good looks and ideal physique for men. And, if you are familiar with Greek mythology, Adonis had a body that was so perfectly beautiful that Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, fell in love with the site of him.

So what parents need to know is that while it’s not as common as it is for girls, (in fact, girls are 3 times as likely to feel bad about their bodies than boys) boys are also at risk of developing unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders. In fact, according to a study done in Australia, about 45 per cent of men were unhappy with their bodies to some degree, compared with only 15 per cent of men only 25 years ago. Remember, Boys are changing too—they also want to look good and desirable to others—they value the opinions of others, and they recognize that there is a connection between positive attention and how they look.

Research into boy’s body image has shown males are concerned with having that lean muscular look and of course, this makes them want to lose weight and increase their muscle mass- often in unhealthy ways. And the bottom line here is that again, messages that come from parents and the media have a strong influence on body image for teen boys as well as teen girls—but while it may be a large concern—and it deserves a lot of attention, we can do something about it—we can help our kids feel confident, healthy, happy and worthwhile-and that is what I am trying to do with my work with children, teens, parents, and educators.

So we must expect teens to come up with ways that make them “the best.” Because we tend to pay attention to the best. Who pays attention to mediocre? In our society we want it all—even if it means that we chisel away at ourselves, our health, and our self worth to get there. Yes, I’m talking abut the teens…but you know as well as I do, we’re also talking about adults. And somehow, we’re supposed to serve as examples.

In a world in need of role models that don’t come in retouched slinky dresses or couched in pumped up doped-filled muscles, we ask those who are truly trying to make a difference to scream the loudest. So go ahead…scream!

One of our resident role models, Amy Jussel, Executive Director of Shaping Youth (an Organization for which I am an Advisory Board member and Body Image expert, piggybacked my article on Steroid use in boys, which I wanted to share, at least in part, with all of you:

Take it away…Amy!

Awhile back I wrote about body image issues offering “equal opportunity toxicity” as young boys have increased body dysmorphia, emulating buffed boy, ripped six-pack icons of video games and ‘hunks’ modeled and merchandised ad nauseum.

Not getting alarmist, as we’re still in single digit growth percentages, but it’s worth the focus on BOYS who have been gaining on girls in eating disorders and tanked self-esteem as media and marketing serve up a quest for the almighty ‘hotness’ and adolescents end up with The Adonis Complex reverb.

This Sunday on our own Shaping Youth Advisory Board member Rona Renner’s radio show, you can hear the doctors tackle “adolescent body image” (podcasts archived too) as Rona and her guests help teens develop a healthier image of themselves beyond the media machine.

Gee, let’s start with Lightyear XSTREAM Energy. (and no, not the Buzz Lightyear kind) This energy drink contains Yohimbe, claiming to be an aphrodisiac and “natural sexual enhancer used for impotent males.” Or perhaps this new summer ’08 flavor of citrus “Crunk” which you may recall originated in ’04 with rapper/producer Lil John and the late Sidney Frank, of Jagermeister and Grey Goose libation fame.

Now, um, tell me, doctors…”Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?”

The media/marketing blitz selling kids ways to last longer, get stronger, “be hot with a shot” is complicit in the escalation of body image problems wreaking havoc on this appearance-obsessed generation of kids.

Girls may receive more press about disordered eating and such, but ‘Bigorexia’ (photo credit at left from Ditch Diets Live Light by blogger Cari Corbet-Owen) is on the rise. (See Cari’s primer called ‘Who Gets the Adonis Complex?” for a helpful snapshot of milestones in media moments for male context)

These media corollaries are backed up by researchers like Alison Field, Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics and lead researcher on the GUTS study [Growing Up Today]…

A synopsis of her outcomes with males?

“Although fewer males than females are preoccupied with a desire to be thinner, a non-trivial number of males are preoccupied with a desire to have more or better defined muscles. The latter concern is rarely assessed in studies that include males.”

And it’s more common than once thought, with a direct correlation of risk factors between boys unhealthy means used to gain weight, (e.g. steroids) and girls unhealthy means lose weight, (e.g. bulimia, diet pills, etc.) tied to “wanting to look like same-sex figures in the media.”

Ahem. Causal link, anyone? When I have 5th graders in our counter-marketing sessions worried about dieting and muscle mass, (boys AND girls) I’d say Houston, we have a problem.

How would Shaping Youth “counter-market” the buffed boy/steroid bit? (and intake of supplements of all kinds promising the lean, mean teen machine?)

Point to articles like this from Parenting Teens.com for starters:

“Teens abusing steroids may suffer reduced sperm count, shrinking testicles, impotence and difficulty urinating. All of this intimately associated with the equipment most men value very highly.

Teens on steroids also risk losing their hair and inappropriate breast development. One has to wonder how many takers there would be for steroids if these side effects were listed alongside the much-vaunted ‘desirable’ effects. This is why education on the (in excess of 70) side effects of steroids is almost a sure way to deal with steroid abuse among teens. The fact is these young people are simply unaware of this.

Imagine a pack of steroids bearing this equation: “Enormous increases in brute strength” soon followed by the shrinking of testicles, impotence, lowered sperm count and hair loss. With the writing on the wall few teens can dispute the ill effects of steroid abuse. It is still true that the underlying problem of low self esteem and poor body image must be addressed. Rest assured that if it is allowed to lie there unattended it will not go away. Instead it will find another destructive outlet.”

Info on Rona Renner’s Radio Show for this Sunday: (1-877-372-KIDS) or listen when posted on the website Details: The doctors will be talking about media and peer pressure to be thin or look sexy, as well as some of the ‘acting out’ that transpires with body insecurities in the form of cutting, eating disorders, depression or anxiety. Hey, maybe Dr. Robyn would call-in to Rona’s radio show and write us a guest editorial recap? Hmn…

Related Resources/Body Image/Boys

NIDA for Teens (Fact Sheets)

Adolescents Bulk Up Their Bodies, USA Today

The X/Y Factor by Rachel Abramowitz, L.A.Times

Tween Boys/Putting on the Spritz by Lori Aratani, L.A. Times

Shaping Youth Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

Bigorexia & Muscle Building: Ditch Diets & Live Light.com

The Adonis Complex: How to Identify, Treat, & Prevent Body Obession in Men & Boys (book)

I’m, Like, SO Fat!: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating & Exercise (book)

Looking Good: Male Body Image in North America (book)

About-Face: Body Image Books/Tips on Body Acceptance

NIDA: Anabolic Steroid Use in Teens, 2005

Kids Health: Steroids/Human Growth Hormone

Steroid Use by Teens Soaring (CBS News, 2003)

Packaging Boyhood.com (upcoming book/survey here!)

Amy Jussel is the Founder & Executive Director of Shaping Youth, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consortium concerned with harmful media and marketing messages to children.Prior to founding Shaping Youth, Amy spent over 20 years as a writer/producer in print, broadcast and film in commercial advertising as well as journalism. Her media background makes her uniquely qualified to assess the impact of multi-channel marketing in children’s lives.

Thanks, Amy! Let’s hear what all of you have to say…comment below!

Copyright: Dr. Robyn J.A.Silverman; http://wwwDrRobynsBlog.com and http://wwwBodyImageBlog.com

Are your children taking steroids…or Viagra? Body Image and Athletic Performance

Steroid Use in Preteens and Teens

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few of them walking in the halls of your children’s schools. Or perhaps you’ve noticed something strange among your own teens. Are their chiseled bodies really of this world? With their six pack abs, bulging biceps and firm quads, these teens make others wonder if they’re really working hard enough at the gym.

But they have a secret that they’re hiding from their parents. Steroids.

Given that many of our sports heroes, including baseball players, track stars , and cyclists, have been accused of (or have admitted to) using steroids to bulk up, slim down, and get that godly look and strength, is it really surprising that teens are interested in doing the same things? Our heroes help us all to see what’s possible and the tools they use to seize the day. It’s only natural for kids to have a desire to follow in their footsteps.

In addition, the cultural pressures to be “the best” can drive teens towards steroid use. How can they get better? Bigger? Faster? Steroids can look like an easy answer.

What are steroids?

Steroids are very helpful in curing a lot of conditions. Anabolic steroids, in particular, help build muscle and bone mass. That’s where the danger starts.

  • Over 5% of boys and around 2.7% of girls in high school admit to taking some form of steroids without a prescription, according to the CDC in 2007.
  • Long term effects of unprescribed intake of anabolic steroids include urinary problems, abrupt and extreme mood swings, trembling, damage to the heart and blood vessels due to blood pressure and even death.
  • In men, steroids can cause symptoms such as breast development, testicular shrinkage and erectile dysfunction. Women taking steroids can experience facial hair growth, clitoris enlargement, menstrual cycle changes and even the development of many masculine characteristics. Most of these symptoms are due to hormonal imbalances caused by the steroid intake.

Some of the danger signs:

  • Mood swings (can be very extreme
  • Urinary problems
  • Severe acne
  • Abrupt increase in muscle mass
  • Yellowish skin
  • Needle marks in muscle groups
  • Syringes in child’s belongings
  • Sudden deepening of voice (females)
  • Facial hair growth (females)

There are 10 major classes of anabolic steroids . Each class is dependent upon the route of administration and the type of carrier solvent used to introduce the steroid into the body.

The ten classes are:
1. Oral
2. Injectable oil-based
3. Injectable water-based
4. Patch or gel
5. Aerosol, propellant based preparation
6. Sublingual
7. Homemade transdermal preparation
8. Androgen-estrogen combination
9. Counterfeit anabolic steroid
10 Over the counter (OTC)

Girls

Girls have recently been known to use steroids as a way to get an edge on the playing field, slim down and tone up. Some girls, as young as 9 years old, have found that steroids can help them to look more like the Hollywood stars and models they admire.

“There’s been a substantial increase for girls during the 1990s, and it’s at an all-time high right now,” said Charles Yesalis, professor of health and human development at Pennsylvania State University.

  • Overall, up to about 5 percent of high school girls and 7 percent of middle-school girls admit trying anabolic steroids at least once, with use of rising steadily since 1991, various government and university studies have shown.
  • “With young women, you see them using it more as a weight control and body fat reduction” method, said Jeff Hoerger, Rutgers University, New Jersey counseling program.
  • These girls are more likely to have eating disorders and use other risky methods to get thin.

Boys

As the men on Gladiators, Wrestlemania, and Ultimate Fighter get bigger, boys may also have a desire to bulk up. But you might be surprised to know that it’s not only about getting stronger. It’s also about body image—and looking more attractive—even in elementary and middle school!

Boys as young as 10, and high school students who do not play team sports, are also bulking up with steroids because they want to look good.

Some high schools are working to combat steroid use by banning the substance and offering a consequence: If a student is caught using performance-enhancing drugs, they can be banned from competing for a whole year. The problem is, no drug testing is required. Parents still need to keep their eyes open.

How should parents address the issue?

Direct Approach: Especially if the person you suspect is your son/daughter, this can be the most effective approach. You can always take the time to just sit down and talk about steroids. Many teens either simply don’t know about the real risks of steroids or are uncertain about their effects. Talk about all the general risks and the long term effects and how it simply isn’t worth it. Let them know that ultimately, they’ll just end up jeopardizing their own goals and maybe their entire lives.

If your child is thinking about taking steroids, your heart-to-heart talk could bring up facts and illuminate issues that s/he didn’t know about before.

Use the Media: When steroid use is brought up in the media, don’t stay silent! Let your children and teens know how you feel about steroid use, what it means for the sport, the athletes, personal health and the integrity of the sport. When children and teens are clear about how you feel about steroids and other illegal substances, they’re more likely to refrain from using.

Child Monitoring

  • Look for any obvious weight gains in your children, particularly, gains in muscle mass over a short period of time.
  • Is there any sign of depression? Hormonal imbalance can cause mood swings and erratic behavior.
  • Is there any apparent hair loss with your child? Premature balding and breast development in boys and facial hair development in females are possible side effects of steroid use.

Intervention: Let the experts work

If you’re sure that the problem exists, let your children know that you only want what’s best for them– and then, introduce an expert. Trained doctors are the best people to address the problem.

Steroids Hotline: 1-800-STEROIDS

This hotline provides information on drugs, how to know if someone you know is using steroids and where to get help.

Anything else but steroids?

In addition, believe it or not, Viagra is now becoming another drug used by athletes. It’s being used to help with athletic performance, increase blood flow, and increase the effectiveness of other drugs. Watch your medicine cabinets.

Looking forward to hearing your reactions- please comment below.

[digg=http://digg.com/health/Scary_Things_Teens_Do_that_Parents_Don_t_Know_Steroids]

Parents Confused About Healthy and Thin Dilemma

“Parents face a complicated situation,” Brownell says. “They have to promote healthy weight, but they also don’t want to change children into diet-crazed fanatics.”

There was a great article in Time Magazine regarding the much discussed “thin and happy” vs. “fat and unhealthy” medical/media beef. A must read.

The dilemma is born due to the connection, albeit societal, between fat=unhealthy=unhappy and thin=healthy=happy. Many are reluctant to admit that people who don’t fit the thin ideal can actually be healthy and happy. Of course, this creates havoc on our children and their sense of body confidence.

The dilemma is further fueled by research determined to prove that thin does indeed equal happy and healthy. Although some has provided other perspectives:

Reports on adults in similar situations have conflicted. Since the 1970s, doctors at the nonprofit Cooper Institute in Dallas have gathered data from more than 100,000 patients who have been weighed, measured and made to run on treadmills while their vital signs are monitored. “We’ve long concluded that people who are overweight and active can be healthier than those who are thin but sedentary,” says Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the institute’s director. “There’s no reason to believe that conclusion doesn’t apply to our children too.”

Much of the overweight and obesity research reiterates that medically overweight and obese children are doomed to medical and social problems. Some celebs, such as Nikki Blonsky and Queen Latifah provide visual confirmation otherwise. But most people are quick to point out the Chris Farleys and Kirstie Alleys of the world– those who were overweight and unhealthy.  And of course, they’re also quick to highlight the buff bods of the music and movie world in magazines and media all over.

In this article, Nikki Blonsky is quick to point out that she is into fitness– something Latifah has also expressed. They are also happy and successful, something research continually tells us is more and more improbable as children and adults deviate more and more from the thin ideal.

So what do you think? Does thin=healthy=happy? Does fat=unhealthy=unhealthy? Or are other configurations alive and well? Let’s start a discussion. Tell us what you think.

Photo creds: PussyCat Dolls, Matt Sayles / AP