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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

McLean doc accuses the feds of overestimating teenage steroid use

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

In a new paper, Dr. Harrison Pope of Harvard’s McLean Hospital is accusing federal researchers of causing undue alarm by greatly overestimating the number of teenage girls who take anabolic steroids.

A 2003 federal survey found that 7.3 percent of 9th-grade girls had used "illegal steroids." But Pope says that a confusing question may have prompted girls to report taking steroids even if they had actually only taken asthma medication, health-food supplements and the like.

The survey question asked teenagers if they had ever taken “steroid pills or shots without a doctor’s prescription.” It would have been better if the question had been more specific, naming steroids like testosterone and Dianabol, Pope says. His paper appears in the new issue of the journal “Drug and Alcohol Dependence.”

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official Laura Kann defends the survey, and says that its findings on steroids were “not inconsistent with what some surveys have shown.” Was there a glitch in the data? “I don’t have any reason to think that, no,” she said.

Pope estimates that perhaps only one-tenth of 1 percent of teenaged girls take anabolic steroids; the drugs can have masculinizing effects such as increased body hair.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:34 PM
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