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Ore. Program Shows Success in Preventing Steroid Use

A drug-abuse-prevention program created by sports doctors in Oregon is the first to show success in deterring student athletes from starting to use steroids, according to a study published in the Archives of Adolescent and Pediatric Medicine.

For the study of male athletes, conducted between 1994 and 1996 by Dr. Linn Goldberg, a professor of sports medicine at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, a total of 3,207 football players in 31 high schools in Oregon and Washington state learned about nutrition and strength training and other alternatives to taking the dangerous athletic-enhancing substances. The early-morning course was led by coaches, and included exercises in which athletes would quiz each other, as they worked out, on medical facts such as, "Why does steroid use stunt growth?"

The study, published in the journal's April 14 issue, found that the athletes who had participated in the program were 50 percent less likely to start using steroids than were athletes in the control group.

The proportion of new steroid users in the control group doubled, from 1.7 percent to 3.4 percent, over the course of the study.

Use of the synthetic substances, designed to maximize muscle mass, has shot up among teenagers in recent years, federal surveys have shown. In a 1999 survey of high school students, 2.7 percent of seniors reported taking steroids within the past year, up from 2 percent a year earlier.

Officials at the National Institute on Drug Abuse hailed the program as extremely promising.

Dr. Goldberg said the program works because it creates a team atmosphere. "If you have team leaders that can talk together and offer reasonable alternatives, kids see the results ... and they win more football games," he said.

Autism Investigation: A federal study undertaken to determine whether environmental factors in a New Jersey municipality caused a high rate of autism in youngsters has led researchers to suggest that the condition is more common among children in the United States than previously believed. Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month concluded that children in Brick Township, N.J., were not rendered autistic by environmental factors.

Federal researchers conducted the yearlong study at the request of local health officials and parents of autistic children concerned that their children's disorder was linked to contaminants in the local drinking water and in a nearby river in which residents swim.

The government scientists found no cluster of cases in a particular location that would have suggested a link to the environment.

But the CDC researchers did confirm that the sheer number of autism cases was remarkable. Four of every 1,000 children in the township between the ages of 3 and 10 were found to be autistic. In a community of 73,000 people, 36 children had autism.

Though there are no other studies of young children with autism in the United States with which to compare those results, previous European and Asian studies have shown that two of every 1,000 children have some form of the disorder.

Autism, which varies in its severity, affects people's ability to function socially and communicate with others. Schools have been dealing in recent years with a rise in the number of pupils identified as autistic. ("Sharp Rise Seen in Identification of Autistic Pupils," Oct. 20, 1999.)

—Jessica Portner

Vol. 19, Issue 34, Page 12

Published in Print: May 3, 2000, as Health Update
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