At schools such as Mountain Pointe in Ahwatukee, students take a fitness education class designed to help them become physically literate and meet Arizona Department of Education standards for physical education. One of the standards requires students to “demonstrate understanding of movement concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics as they apply to learning and performance of physical activities.” Two specific performance outcomes describe student expectations. Specifically students must be able to: (1) “Explain the difference between facts and myths related to physical activity,” and (2) “Identify and describe products that enhance or prohibit levels of physical activity.”
The study of dietary supplements is one area of particular importance for students as they learn to become good consumers. Research posted on Medscape estimates “that 70 percent of youth under age 18 have consumed dietary supplements.” The literature suggests a variety of reasons why teens try supplements including better sports performance, bodybuilding, weight gain or loss, to name but a few. Interest in bodybuilding is not limited to athletes nor males.
Informed high school students are aware that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements and has not since 1994. They also are aware that many supplements have been recalled because they have been proven harmful or potentially harmful because they (1) contain substances that should not be in the product (steroids in protein supplements or toxins in other products for example), (2) they contain more or less than the advertised amounts of advertised product, and/or (3) they do not contain the product advertised. The FDA website on fraudulent dietary supplements indicates that the FDA has recalled more than 80 supplements marketed for bodybuilding and 40 for weight loss. More information is available at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm246744.htm and, http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm050803.htm.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) posts a website that warns of several dangers of dietary supplement use. They warn about the lack of evidence for the value of supplements and the potential dangers of supplement use. The agency also indicates that, “the best option may be not to take supplements
http://www.supplement411.org/supplement411/. Protein supplements can be used as an example because they are widely used by teen athletes. Dietitians, medical doctors, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that most Americans get more than enough protein in their diet. For this reason protein supplements are rarely needed. Active people do need more protein than inactive people but they also eat more and get enough protein from the extra calories in their diet. Good food (example equals lean chicken breast) is the best source of protein and is far less expensive than a supplement (per gram). Good food does not involve the potential risks of supplements. Both teens and their parents can benefit from watching a short video on bodybuilding supplements, http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ProtectYourself/HealthFraud/ucm267534.htm.
Informed high school students have learned in fitness education classes how to identify health quackery. They are aware that advertisements for supplements are often misleading or false. They are aware that athletes and movie stars are often used to lure teens to use ineffective products. They know that “official supplements” of sports teams are products made by manufacturers who pay teams for use of a team name. The FDA provides “Tip-Offs to Rip Offs” to help consumers avoid supplement scams. Learn more at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm341344.htm. Informed students are also aware that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pursues manufacturers who falsely advertise products. For more information, go to http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm153239.htm.
To be sure, there are instances when supplement use is warranted. For example, physicians may prescribe a supplement to make up for a deficiency. But, too many teens use supplement based on misinformation. Supplement use among teens is not limited to athletes and those interested in performance. Parents would be wise to inform themselves about supplements (see websites above) and then talk with their teens about them. If your school does not have a fitness education program that teaches about supplements and that meets Arizona Standards for physical education (physical literacy), ask school officials why not.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Dr. Chuck Corbin is professor emeritus at Arizona State University and author of many books and articles on fitness and wellness.