Professor to conduct first large-scale steroid study

Robert Turrisi, professor of biobehavioral health in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, will play a major role in conducting the first large-scale survey of both legal and illegal steroid usage in teenagers. The study, a collaboration between Skidmore College and Penn State, is targeting up to 6,000 first-year college students.

“In the past, steroids were mainly used with athletics, to give athletes an edge. Now we’re seeing a shift and people are using steroids more commonly for cosmetic purposes and for body-building,” Turrisi said.

Turrisi and his colleagues are concerned that many teenagers do not understand the negative side effects of steroids, both short term, damage to the central nervous system, and long term, damage to the endocrine system in some cases; in other cases, tumors. Teenagers are also likely to perceive the most famous steroid users such as Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi, as successful, which can be appealing.

“Right now, most researchers estimate that five to ten percent of teenage males use over-the-counter or illegal steroids,” Turrisi said. “That’s a significant number when you know that this is behavior happens in high schools across the country. The reality is that high school students are using these substances.”

Turrisi will be gathering and analyzing information, which will be used to inform future research aimed at preventing steroid use. Through surveys, he will be assessing steroid usage, motivation behind steroid usage and knowledge about steroids, including their negative side effects.

“Part of the difficulty with this project is keeping up-to-date with all of the new legal performance enhancers that are put on the market, which anyone can buy in drug stores,” Turrisi said.

Turrisi will also be determining if there are correlations between over-the-counter performance enhancer usage and illegal steroid usage, and possibly assessing whether over-the-counter drug usage can lead to illegal steroids.

Other key persons on the project include Tanya Dodge, assistant professor of psychology at Skidmore University (principal investigator), Miesha Marzell, doctoral student in biobehavioral health, and Chuck Yesalis, professor emeritus of health policy and administration and exercise and sport science in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development, who now works as a consultant. Yesalis was a major player in bringing to light some of the steroid activity in baseball today.

The project, which received funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse in September 2008, will last for two years.
 

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Last Updated May 21, 2009