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Misuse of legal, over-the-counter appearance- or performance-enhancing supplements may signal an eating disorder, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention.

Misuse of legal, over-the-counter appearance- or performance-enhancing supplements may signal an eating disorder, according to research presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention.

Emerging eating disorder

For some men, the misuse of legalized, over-the-counter bodybuilding supplements is contributing to what has been described as “an emerging eating disorder,” according to new research.

For a small study presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, researchers surveyed about 200 men aged 18-65 who had taken legal appearance- or performance-enhancing supplements within the past 30 days and worked out at least twice a week for fitness and/or appearance reasons. They asked the men about their supplement use, self-esteem, body image, eating habits and gender role conflicts and found:

• More than 40 percent of respondents indicated their use of supplements had increased over time.

• Twenty-two percent of participants said they used dietary supplements not intended as meal replacements to replace regular meals.

• Twenty-nine percent of participants said they were concerned about their personal use of supplements.

• Eight percent of respondents said their doctors had told them to cut back on or stop using supplements due to actual or potential adverse health effects.

• Three percent of respondents reported they had been hospitalized for kidney or liver problems related to their supplement use.

Commenting on the findings, study presenter Richard Achiro, of California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles, said:

“Body-conscious men who are driven by psychological factors to attain a level of physical or masculine ‘perfection’ are prone to use these supplements and drugs in a manner that is excessive and which was demonstrated in this study to be a variant of disordered eating. As legal supplements become increasingly prevalent around the globe, it is all the more important to assess and treat the psychological causes and effects of excessive use of these drugs and supplements.”


Sobering marriages

Getting married can lead to dramatic drops in alcohol consumption among problem drinkers, a recent study revealed.

Previous studies have shown that problem drinking often begins to decline at young adulthood, due in part to demands of new roles and responsibilities. Using data from a long-term, ongoing Arizona State University (ASU) study of familial alcohol disorders, ASU and University of Missouri (MU) researchers examined how people’s drinking rates changed as they aged from 18-40, looking specifically at the impact of marriage on drinking behaviors of those with serious drinking problems.

Commenting on the findings, MU researcher Matthew Lee said, “(We) found that marriage not only led to reductions in heavy drinking in general – this effect was much stronger for those who were severe problem drinkers before getting married. We believe that greater problem drinking likely conflicts more with the demand of roles like marriage; thus, more severe problem drinkers are likely required to more substantially alter their drinking habits to adapt to the marital role.”

Researchers said more studies to further understanding of role-driven drinking reductions could affect clinical efforts to help people with severe drinking problems.


Problems for picky eaters

A Duke Medicine study published last month in Pediatrics found that picky eating is a common childhood problem that in some cases coincides with mental health issues that might require intervention.

According to the study that initially involved more than 3,400 children, more than one in five 2-6-year-olds are “selective eaters.” Close to 18 percent of those children fall into the “moderately picky” category and the remainder are “severely selective” eaters, meaning their self-imposed food restrictions affect their ability to eat with other people.

At follow-up intervals, researchers found all children in the moderate and severe selective eating categories exhibited significantly elevated symptoms of depression, social anxiety and generalized anxiety. While the moderately picky eaters were not more likely to receive a formal psychiatric diagnosis, the severely selective eaters were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression.

But according to the researchers, children with moderate and severe selective eating patterns would meet criteria for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), an eating disorder.

Lead author Nancy Zucker, director of the Duke Center for Eating Disorders, said moderate and severe selective eaters are “not just misbehaving kids who refuse to eat their broccoli.”

“These are children whose eating has become so limited or selective that it’s starting to cause problems,” Zucker said. “Impairment can take many different forms. It can affect the child’s health, growth, social functioning, and the parent-child relationship. The child can feel like no one believes them, and parents can feel blamed for the problem.”

Zucker said some selective eaters might have heightened senses that make the smell, texture or taste of certain foods seem disgusting. In other cases, a negative experience when trying a particular food might result in anxiety when being told to try it again or even when trying another new food.

Even though selective eating does not always persist into adulthood, Zucker said, it is a childhood problem that requires attention.

“There’s no question that not all children go on to have selective eating in adulthood,” Zucker said. “But because these children are seeing impairment in their health and well-being now, we need to start developing ways to help these parents know when and how to intervene.”

While new interventions are needed to deal with children who have sensory sensitivities that affect their ability to eat, Zucker said that for now, parents and doctors should be aware that selective eaters may be at increased risk for anxiety and depression.


Pedal power

Studies have suggested that sitting all day at work can result in serious health problems, leading some companies to invest in stand-up desks. But other studies have shown there are health repercussions also from spending too much time on one’s feet, so what’s an office worker to do?

Lucas Carr, a member of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative at the University of Iowa, thinks a portable pedaling device that fits under a desk could be the solution.

To test that idea, Carr provided 27 employees at an Iowa City business with a pedaling device –the activeLife Trainer™ – to place beneath their desks. The equipment was outfitted with an activity monitor to track each employee’s pedaling time, which over a 16-week period averaged 50 minutes a day.

Results showed that study participants who formerly were sedentary all day were moving without leaving their desks. Compared to employees who did not pedal as much, those who pedaled more were more likely to lose weight and report improved concentration and less likely to call in sick.

According to Carr, one reason the pedaling devices were successful is because they enabled employees to exercise privately.

“A lot of companies have gone the route of building expensive fitness facilities that typically get used only by the most healthy employees,” Carr said. “This is something that could be provided to just about any employee, regardless of the size of their company or office. It’s right at their feet, and they can use it whenever they want without feeling self-conscious in front of their co-workers.”

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