Friday, April 28, 2006

Getting Kids Off Steroids: OHSU, SI Team Up for Oregon

Say what you will about how OHSU likes to throw its weight around in Portland; the fact remains that the university hospital is a very well-regarded research institution, with any number of prominent, nationally recognized scientific endeavors. Many of their successes are of the esoteric clinical variety, in which you pretty much have to be a research scientist yourself in order to understand how much of an achievement it really is.

But Monday in Sunriver, the university's Center for Health Promotion Research and Sports Illustrated co-sponsored a mini-conference on youthful steroid (and other drug and alcohol) use during the annual Oregon School Activities Association athletic director's conference. You don't have to be a scientist to recognize such a worthy goal. That wasn't even the best news; the two organizations also identified four Oregon schools (out of only 16 nationwide) as recipients of a grant for the 06-07 school year, that will provide free implementation of OHSU's renowned ATLAS and ATHENA programs for school athletes. What's that? Glad you asked:
ATLAS (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids), a multi-component program for male high school athletes, first instituted in 1993, is scientifically shown to reduce risk factors and use of anabolic steroids, alcohol and other illicit drugs while promoting healthy nutrition and exercise behaviors. Proven results include: new substance use decreased 50 percent; new anabolic steroid use decreased 50 percent; occurrences of drinking and driving declined 24 percent; a lower index of alcohol and drug use; reduced use of performance-enhancing supplements; and improved nutrition and exercise behaviors.

ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives), which began reaching high schools for female athletes in 1997, features the promotion of healthy nutrition and effective exercise training as alternatives to harmful behaviors. The objectives are: reduce young women athletes' disordered eating habits; deter use of body-shaping substances; improve sport performance with guidelines targeting the specific needs of young women. Proven results include: less use of athletic enhancing substances; less use of diet pills; less riding in a car with a drinking driver; greater seatbelt use; less new sexual activity; improved nutrition behaviors and reduced long-term use of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco.
Glencoe High in Hillsboro, Pendleton High, Scappoose High and Stayton High were chosen in Oregon; 12 other schools in Michigan, Florida and Virginia were also selected. Why does it work?
By emphasizing the impact of alcohol and other drugs on immediate sport performance, rather than potential and abstract long-term complications, the approach appeals to the adolescents focus on the here and now. This program can be implemented through schools, recreational centers and other community organizations with adolescent athletes.
A variety of risk factors are targeted, including social influences (e.g., peers, coaches, media); learning about anabolic steroids, alcohol and other drugs, skills to resist drug offers, team ethics and drug-free commitment, drug use norms, personal vulnerability to drug effects, debunking media images promoting supplement and substance use, and parent, and coach and team intolerance of drug use. Protective factors, include improved perception of athletic achievement and enhanced self-efficacy through the use of the sport nutrition goal-setting and strength training.
With all the buzz in both the sports world and Congress about steroids lately, I'm a little surprised that I missed any local coverage of the program and the grant by SI (not to mention the magazine's inaugural SI Champion Award to OHSU in February for exemplary work by a non-profit in the sports field), but this week's issue of the magazine features an article on steroid use which mentions the ATLAS/ATHENA program as a winner.

There's certainly legitimate criticism to make of OHSU and their relationship with the City. But sometimes it helps to keep things in perspective. Maybe, just maybe, those imperious docs on high in their Pill Hill ivory towers will be the ones to keep your young centerfielder, linebacker, small forward or heptathlete from succumbing to pressure and falling into steroid temptation.