Fort Worth, Texas,
13:41 PM

What Kids Can Learn from Olympic Swimmer Lilly King

Endocrinologist helps with talk on performance enhancing drugs

Lilly King became an American hero by winning the gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke against Russia’s Yulia Efimova.

The 19 year old’s defeat of Efimova was not only a matter of national pride, but serves a teaching moment for children everywhere about doing things the right way. Efimova had served a 16-month suspension for doping from late 2013 to early 2015. Russia has been under heavy scrutiny since its track and field team was banned following a state-sponsored doping program.

“It’s incredible, just winning a gold medal, and knowing I did it clean,” King said after her victory.

Joel Steelman, M.D., an endocrinologist at Cook Children’s, hopes young people watched and listened to King.

A survey in 2014 by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that 11 percent of teens in grades 9-12 reported “ever having used” synthetic human growth hormone without a prescription.

The U.S. Department of Health’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, published in 2012, stated that about 3.2 percent or 640,000 high school athletes, both boys and girls, had tried steroids at least once.

Dr. Steelman said what has happened to the Russian Olympic team is a perfect example of why kids use performance enhancing drugs (PED). They want a competitive edge in sports, hoping they can be a star athlete and make it to college or pros.

Another reason for taking PEDs is the body image factor. A kid may be looking for a shortcut to achieve that idealized body – more muscular or lean.

Dr. Steelman said symptoms of PED use may be subtle, but there are signs:

  • The body change is the most obvious one – a more muscular appearance.
  • A growth spurt in height may occur in younger kids as natural androgens produced by the body in puberty lead to a growth spurt.
  • Dramatic slowing in height gain occurs later, post puberty, because one of the effects of these drugs is closing the growth plates more rapidly.
  • Acne and other skin changes in both boys and girls.
  • Facial and other body hair may occur for both boys and girls.
  • Mood changes – anger, moody, etc.

Dr. Steelman said parents should be looking for these red flags, especially changes in temper and behavior. He also advises parents to watch for obsessiveness about sports, competition and body image.

When talking to your children, Dr. Steelman suggests reminding them that performance enhancing drugs are illegal and can cause serious damage to their health. Steroids and other PEDs are harmful to the body both in the short term but also longer term risk:

  • Growth stunting
  • Impacts on fertility
  • Risk for liver disease/tumors
  • Increased blood clotting/stroke risk

“The achievement of athletes like Lilly King is a great example to young people,” Dr. Steelman said. “I hope parents take this opportunity to talk with their kids. They should know that they can still achieve their goals by doing things the right way.”

Photos from USA Swimming

About the author

Joel Steelman, M.D., is an endocrinologist at the Cook Children's Endocrine and Diabetes program, which treats infants, children and teens with conditions that are caused by or affect the hormonal balance of the body. We understand the importance of working together and that's how we approach the care of our children.

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