The American public believes that teenagers are facing much more serious problems in high schools today than the threat of anabolic steroids. This was the finding of a recent national survey study published by the researchers at the Center for Social Development and Education (CSDE) at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The study was funded by the anti-steroid Taylor Hooton Foundation, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.
The results of “The American Public’s Perception of Illegal Steroid Use” survey revealed that Americans believed that steroids were less of a problem than other illegal drugs such as alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
Were they correct in believing that teenagers have bigger problems than steroids?
Americans tended to rate the issues affecting the greatest number of teens as more significant than those with a lower prevalence especially when it came to illicit drugs.
Only 19% rated steroids as a “big problem” whereas 55%, 46% and 25% felt similarly about alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, respectively. Bullying, obesity, STDs and eating disorders were also considered more serious problems than steroids.
Table 1. Percentage of people who believe steroid use is a big problem compared to other risk behaviors and conditions. (1)
According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future study of adolescent drug use published by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, the lifetime prevalence rates for alcohol, marijuana and cocaine were, in fact, significantly higher than the prevalence rates for steroids.
|8th Grade||10th Grade||12th Grade|
|Marijuana / Hashish||15.2%||33.8%||45.2%|
Table 2. Trends in Lifetime Prevalence of Use of Various Drugs in Grades 8, 10, and 12. (2)
Should Americans consider the fact that 69.4%, 45.2% and 4.9% of high school seniors have used alcohol, marijuana and cocaine more significant than the 1.8% that have used steroids?
Yes. It would be a logical and rational conclusion.
Yet, the CSDE researchers, in what seems to be a blatant case of pandering to the (anti-steroid) organizations that paid for the study, attempted to argue that Americans were uninformed and clueless about the extent of the steroid “problem”.
The CSDE researchers suggested that Americans were mistaken in concluding that other problems were of relatively more significance than steroids.
“The results of this survey reveal a lack of awareness among the public about a problem that exists among adolescents today – the use of performance enhancing drugs. This is true of people throughout the country representing all education levels, those who are and are not interested in sports or are parents of children involved in sports. Perhaps most striking is that the public believes that steroid use ranks last in a list of problems facing adolescents today…
“In conclusion, there is a clear disconnect between what the public knows and believes about steroids and their perceptions of it as a problem or lack thereof among adolescents. To move forward and educate the public, this disconnect needs to be addressed.”
Rather than analyze how perceptions corresponded with actual prevalence data, the CSDE researchers told the Baseball Hall of Fame, Taylor Hooton Foundation and Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society exactly what they wanted to hear – Steroids really are a “big problem” when compared to other risky behaviors and conditions facing teens; the failure to recognize this simply reflected a “lack of awareness” by the American public.
The CSDE researchers made a weak and disingenuous attempt to minimize the high lifetime prevalence rates involving alcohol and marijuana.
Such prevalence rates may seem low compared to those of adolescent experimentation with alcohol (71%; CDC, 2012) and marijuana (40%; CDC, 2012). However, experimentation means one can try it once and never use it again. In contrast, steroid use is usually continuous and cyclic in nature; an individual does not simply try or use steroids once.
On the face of it, CSDE’s argument seems fair enough. But not so fast. If you look at the 30-day prevalence of daily use of alcohol and marijuana from the 2012 Monitoring the Future study, you see that the CSDE’s attempt to trivialize prevalence rates is pure propaganda.
|8th Grade||10th Grade||12th Grade|
|Alcohol (drink daily)||0.3%||1.0%||2.5%|
|Alcohol (drunk daily)||0.1%||0.4%||1.5%|
|Alcohol (5+ drinks during past 2 weeks)||5.1%||15.6%||23.7%|
|Marijuana / Hashish||1.1%||3.5%||6.5%|
Table 3. Trends in 30-Day Prevalence of Use of Various Durgs in Grades 8, 10, and 12. (2)
In fact, there are more high school seniors who’ve reported drinking on daily basis (2.5%) and far more using marijuana daily (6.5%) than there are seniors who have experimented with steroids at any point during their lifetime (1.8%).
Don Hooton, the president of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, accepted the researcher’s conclusions at face value and concluded that adults were “oblivious” to the issue of steroid use among teens.
“We have an adult population that is virtually oblivious to the fact that the problem even exists,” said Don Hooton.
The CSDE interpretation notwithstanding, the data actually suggested that adults, rather than being oblivious to reality, had accurately assessed the problem of steroids when compared to other illicit drugs. It’s just not as big a problem as the study authors or the organizations who commissioned the study wanted it to be.
Unfortunately, the CSDE researchers not only refused to accept how accurately American perceptions reflected reality, they also looked for ways to change public perception so that the public adopted the authors’ anti-steroid bias. Like any good piece of propaganda, the authors proposed methods of influencing the public to accept an exaggerated world view where steroids are considered a “big problem” similar to alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
How did the CSDE researchers propose to convince the public that anabolic steroids really are a major problem relative to other risky behaviors?
- 1. Focus on morality: Use public’s perception of steroids as “cheating” as a way to exaggerate problem of steroids.
“It is perhaps the moral view of steroid use as cheating that could provide the foundation for beginning to raise public awareness through educational campaigns, along with clearly articulating the negative consequences of steroid use for young athletes.”
- 2. Steroids and aggression: Convince the public that a common side effect of steroids is “roid rage” which in turn can turn teens into violent criminals.
“[O]ne of the common side effects steroid users experience is a violent or aggressive demeanor, which in some cases has been documented to lead to criminal behavior such as violent assaults or homicide.”
- 3. Steroids and bullying: Convince the public that steroids cause bullying. Since “bullying” is already considered a big problem by the majority of Americans, steroids will also be considered a big problem too.
“One could argue that in the high school context, this [steroid-induced] aggression could manifest itself in the form of bullying, a major public health problem.”
Steroid use by teenagers is a problem. But let’s not get carried away and call it as big a problem as other much more common issues like alcohol use.
More importantly, let’s be more critical of scientific researchers who become advocates ignoring data that is inconsistent with their agenda. Such misleading research is designed to change public perception in favor of the demonization of anabolic steroids.
The Center for Social Development and Education (CSDE) study provided a disservice to the organizations that commissioned the study and especially to those interested in a dispassionate, objective analysis of steroid use in adolescents. CSDE, while trying to help them with their advocacy, actually accomplished the opposite.
The truth is always more important than anti-steroid propaganda.
1. Siperstein, G. N., Romano, N., Iskenderoglu, G., Roman A., Iskenderolgu G., Roman A., Folwer, F. J., and Drascher, M. (2013). The American Public’s Perception of Illegal Steroid Use: A National Survey. Funded by National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Taylor Hooton Foundation, and Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.
2. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2013). Monitoring the Future national results on drug use: 2012 Overview, Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.
3. Associated Press. (May 2, 2013). Study: Adults minimize steroid use as problem. Retreived from http://online.wsj.com/article/AP72081e516c2c4881b56f8b29c6078c41.html