Why do teenagers use supplements, and where do they get their advice?

By Nathan Gray contact

- Last updated on GMT

 iStock / Photobuay
iStock / Photobuay
Many adolescents use dietary supplements in an attempt to increase sports performance or improve immunity, finds a new study that also suggests supplements are frequently used despite a lack of knowledge about possible harmful effects.

Writing in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior​, the team of Slovenia scientists surveyed almost 1,500 adolescents aged between 14 and 19 years old in a bid to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying reasons for purchasing dietary supplements, and the sources of advice and recommendation for supplement use.

"According to the existing information, adolescents are the most susceptible and misinformed group of customers; thus this population is the target market for dietary supplements,"​ said lead author Katja Zdešar Kotnik, from the University of Ljubljana.

Results from the study suggest that teenagers in Europe frequently use dietary supplements despite this lack of knowledge about possible harmful effects or drug interactions.

In particular, the team said males often turn to dietary supplements in an attempt to increase their performance for sports while females are more concerned with preventing illness and disease.

Research data

The study was conducted using data collected within the Analysis of Children's Development in Slovenia cross-sectional study in 2014. Samples included close to 1,500 participants aged 14-19 years enrolled in 15 public high schools – with an equal number of male and female students who answered questions about their use of dietary supplements, reasons and source of recommendation for using dietary supplements, average daily physical activity, and categories of sports in which some of them trained.

After analysis of the data, enhancement of sport performance was cited as the top reason for consuming dietary supplements by both male athletes and non-athletes, followed by growth and development of bones and muscles.

Similarly, improving the immune system was named as the primary reason for both female athletes and non-athletes, followed by sports performance.

Furthermore, adolescents using dietary supplements at least several times a year were more likely to be engaged in team sports such as football and basketball than in individual sports, said the team.

When looking at the source of recommendations for supplements, the team found that over 40% of both genders decided to use supplements on their own, while 30% based their usage on a recommendation from parents or other relatives.

"We found the use of dietary supplements was high in non-athletes and athletes of both genders although available evidence warns against noncritical use,"​ Zdešar Kotnik said. "This is likely due to marketing campaigns from manufacturers and uncritical coverage in lay publications."

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior
Volume 49, Issue 10, November–December 2017, Pages 817-826.e1, doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2017.07.005
“Faster, Stronger, Healthier: Adolescent-Stated Reasons for Dietary Supplementation”
Authors: Katja Zdešar Kotnik, et al

Related topics: Research

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