The JAMA On Men’s Body Image Issues
Current Events: “More research is needed to address the critical health problems associated with the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids among American men.”
When our son Taylor died in 2003, we had taken him to three different doctors in the weeks/months leading up to his death. A family physician, a dermatologist and a psychiatrist. Two of the three doctors were unable to diagnose what was causing the symptoms that led us to seek their advice. The one doctor that was able to determine that Taylor was using anabolic steroid, treated Taylor by making him quit suddenly, in other words, “cold turkey”.
In hindsight, the instruction to quit cold turkey was not the right way to treat a user trying to come off of steroids. This may very well be the action that drove the serious depression that resulted in Taylor’s suicide.
Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)
In an article published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Harvard Professor Dr. Harrison Pope warned that that “there may be millions of American men—the majority of whom are not competitive athletes—who risk health consequences from the use of anabolic-androgenic steroids—the family of drugs that includes testosterone and its many synthetic derivatives.” Pope is the director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at McLean Hospital, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and first author of the Viewpoint paper.
This paper was co-authored by Jag Khalsa, PhD, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Shalender Bhasin, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“The widespread abuse of anabolic steroids by a growing fraction of America’s young men is a pressing public health problem that requires a concerted national effort,” said Bhasin. “Because men may hide their use and abuse of steroids, there is a lack of research outlining effective strategies to prevent or treat the long-term consequences of steroid use,” Pope added.
The Effects of the Idealized Male Body Image
Over the last several decades, the image of the idealized male body in much of the western world has shifted toward a higher level of muscularity. Today’s young men are constantly exposed to muscular male images—on magazine covers, in ads, on television, and in the movies.
“Even children’s action toys, such as GI Joe, have become significantly more muscular than their predecessors of the 1960s,” Dr. Pope said.
This focus on muscularity in Western culture has led to a rising prevalence of “muscle dysmorphia,” a form of body image disorder characterized by an obsessive preoccupation with a muscular appearance. Men with muscle dysmorphia may show elevated rates of mood and anxiety disorders, obsessive and compulsive behaviors, and impairment of social and occupational functioning. In their relentless pursuit of muscularity, these men are particularly at risk for long-term use of steroids. New studies point to an increased risk of premature death, cardiovascular disorders, and psychiatric effects due to use of steroids.
In addition to further research, Pope and his colleagues cite the importance of raising awareness among the public, health care practitioners, and policymakers about the serious health consequences of steroids.
“We need to understand that modern media images that falsely equate muscularity with masculinity can be very damaging,” Pope said.
The Taylor Hooton Foundation is a co-sponsor of a national forum on this topic that is scheduled to be held in Washington, DC on April 27. The meeting will be held at the National Institute of Health.
- How big is the youth APED problem? Vol. 1
- How big is the youth APED problem? Vol. 2