Steroids rife in schools
Steroid use by high school boys is becoming more sophisticated and is showing no sign of slowing down.
Experts revealed yesterday that boys as young as 13 from elite boarding and ordinary middle-class high schools were using illegal substances - often placing themselves at risk of liver damage, life-long infertility and shrunken testicles.
Speaking on the sidelines of a South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport supplement summit yesterday, Dr Glen Hagemann said at least 5% of boys surveyed at 23 KwaZulu-Natal high schools last year admitted using steroids.
In higher grades, more than 10% of the 12000 boys surveyed admitted to at least having tried illegal steroids.
Hagemann is managing director of SharkSmart, a programme that works with high schools in KwaZulu-Natal to address steroid use by pupils and promote good coaching.
A senior government official, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions, told the conference that principals were hiding steroid use to prevent their schools from getting a bad name.
Steroids such as Winstrol, Dianabol, testosterone and Clenbuterol were sold at schools for between R300 and R400.
"Children are dealing in schools. Principals are covering it up to allow their kiddies to get somewhere," he said.
Guys at gyms, whose bodies teenagers admired, were hooking children into steroid use, he said.
Hagemann said: "There is a split between boys using steroids to get big and bulk up and [those using them] for better sports performance." Steroids were easily bought on the internet, from people selling dagga or at gyms, he said.
A Gauteng teacher said yesterday she had seen pupils selling steroids and had reported it to her principal but nothing was done.
When police came to investigate, they were told they could not enter the school because it was exam time or it was inconvenient, she said.
The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport tests boys and promises a ban from school sport for a year if a boy tests positive for steroids. But neither this nor the side effects always deter teenagers who want big bodies or an edge at sports.
Dieticians and sport doctors who spoke at the summit warned that teenagers' use of supplements such as muscle builders, creatine and vitamins was widespread, despite no evidence to prove that these products were safe for children. Creatine, for example, had not been tested on adolescents.
Dr Harris Steinman said vicarious parents would spend R3000 a month for children they wanted to become a Springbok.
More than half of the boys at the annual Craven Week rugby tournament were using supplements to improve their performance, said dietician Shelley Meltzer.
Sports dietician Amanda Claassen-Smithers warned that, though they were legal, supplements were "risky" as they remained largely unregulated.
"There was support for a hypothesis that teenagers who used creatine were later likely to use anabolic steroids."
She said there were difficulties, globally and locally, regulating the contents of supplements and ensuring that labels accurately reflected contents and that the supplement was safe for humans and "not just tested on rats".
Supplements contain nutrients in quantities larger than the body needs and could be toxic and cause liver damage or death.
Teenagers and other consumers also used a mixture of different supplements, without knowing how they interacted.
The president of the South African Sports Medicine Association, Jon Patricios, said teenagers believed coaches, personal trainers and the advertising industry and took supplements regardless of whether or not there was evidence they worked.