A look at nutritional supplement use in adolescents

J Adolesc Health. 2004 Jun;34(6):508-16. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2003.07.024.


Purpose: To examine the use of nutritional supplements by adolescents. Supplements examined were those purported to influence performance and body mass.

Methods: 333 adolescents (190 male, 139 female, 4 nonrespondents) between the ages of 13 and 19 years, from a midwestern province in Canada, completed a pencil-and-paper survey. Participants, who were enrolled in health and wellness/physical education classes, were requested to provide information about current and potential use of 10 readily available nutritional supplements, as well as their knowledge of these products as potentially performance enhancing. Differences in use, potential use, and knowledge, as a function of gender, age, and level of physical activity were examined using Chi-square analyses and ANOVA techniques.

Results: The most popular dietary aids were multivitamin/mineral preparations (42.5%). More adolescent males than females reported that they currently used both creatine and diuretics. Female respondents indicated that they would consume herbal weight control products significantly more than males. Older students and students reporting high levels of physical activity were significantly more likely to be supplementing with creatine and protein. Males were more likely than females to believe that creatine and androsterone were performance-enhancing agents. Individuals highly involved in physical activity tended to believe that multivitamins, creatine, L-carnitine, energizers, and protein supplements could enhance their performance.

Conclusions: This study highlights the fact that many nutritional supplements fall within the spectrum of adolescent use, and that this use may be driven by misguided beliefs in their performance-enhancing abilities. Groups at particular risk, such as individuals involved in physical activity to a high degree, are highlighted and the need for gender-specific information is suggested.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male