Muscling to ill-health: Youngsters with 'body image issues' at risk


Muscle-building drugs are being pushed to gym-goers, many of them students and young professionals. While anabolic steroids may produce quick results, the health risks could be deadly.

WHEN Terence (not his real name) saw some “mints” in his son’s room, he didn’t think much about it. But, when he noticed his son’s drastically changed diet and obsession with bulking up, he started to get worried.

“At first, I thought him being health-conscious was a good thing. Instead of hanging out at the mamak stall with his friends until midnight, he was working out and eating healthy. Then, I found out about the pills,” he said.

Terence, whose son was attending a private school at the time, said: “I demanded that he told me the truth.

“He assured me it was vitamins to help him with his studies.

“So, I confiscated the bottles and did my own research. I was shocked to learn that the pills contained steroids for muscle enhancement and physical endurance.”

Terence said he was forced to terminate his son’s gym membership.

“I knew that at the age of 19, all youngsters could think about was their physical appearance. Although being muscular is the trend, you cannot brush aside the health risks of steroid abuse.”

The short-term effects of steroid abuse include acne, mood swings, fatigue, restlessness and agitation, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, decreased sperm count and impotence.

Long-term effects include anger and aggression (known as “roid rage”), paranoia, delusions, heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, liver tumours and blood-borne diseases (in cases where steroids are injected).

After a session with a student counsellor, Terence’s son admitted that the steroids were “push-ed” by his peers in the gym locker room and that it was “normal” for college kids to take them for faster muscle grow-th.

A random survey by the New Sunday Times revealed that eight out of 10 young gym-goers admitted to taking muscle-building products and anabolic steroids after being approached in locker rooms by other members and gym employees.

Three of them said they had obtained the products online.

Some Klang Valley gyms claimed that “steroid pushing” was not taking place on their premises, but their members, who were college students, said otherwise.

Errol (not his real name), a university student, said he had purchased muscle-enhancing products in tablet form from his gym friends.

“When one of my friends introduced me to these tablets, I was sceptical. But, after a few months, I noticed I had more energy and could work out longer in the gym.”

Errol, whose gym membership was paid for by his mother, said he was struggling to build muscles.

“I took the protein powders sold at the gym, but I didn’t see the desired results until I took the tablet,” he said.

Zach Shea, 20, said he obtained muscle growth tablets on the Internet after seeing his friends bulking up.

“It cost RM25 per bottle, so it wasn’t that expensive. I got the first batch from my college mate and then I ordered it online. It was just a pill you chew on. It tasted like a breath freshener.”

He said the tablets made him feel more energetic, allowing him to put in more hours in his workout routine.

“I feel more energetic. Although I take coffee in the morning, what I got from the tablet is different. I am more alert between classes, too,” he said, adding that he now preferred to walk to the gym because he had more energy.

Adrian (not his real name), 19, obtained his muscle growth supplements from his gym.

“I’m not sure what the ingredients are, but a bottle of 60 tablets cost RM260. My body looks the same, but I have more energy to work out,” he said.

Adrian said he had always had body image issues and wanted to measure up to friends who had more muscular bodies.

A student counsellor from a private college in Subang Jaya, who wanted to be known only as Izzy, said many gym buffs were hanging out on the college premises to promote gym memberships at a discounted rate.

“Many of these boys don’t know what they are getting into. They want to look cool and macho, so they get their parents to get gym memberships for them.”

Izzy urged gyms to keep watch on college kids and stop them from making “bad decisions”.

“Most are there because they are insecure about the way they look.

“They believe they can boost their self-esteem by making themselves look buff.”