Effects of Mass Communication on Attitudes toward Anabolic Steroids: An Analysis of High School Seniors

By Denham, Bryan E. | Journal of Drug Issues, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Effects of Mass Communication on Attitudes toward Anabolic Steroids: An Analysis of High School Seniors


Denham, Bryan E., Journal of Drug Issues


Drawing on a national probability sample of high school seniors (n = 2,560), this research explores relationships between exposure to four types of mass communication-magazines, movies, newspapers, and television-and attitudes toward anabolic steroids, operationalized along three dependent measures. Logistic regression analyses revealed statistically significant relationships among (a) magazine exposure and estimates of drug use in professional sports, (b) newspaper and television exposure and disapproval of steroid use, (c) newspaper exposure and estimates of self-inflicted harm caused by steroid use, and (d) exposure to anti-drug spots and each of the three dependent variables. Theoretical and methodological implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

In recent years, anabolic steroid use among professional athletes has received significant coverage in print and broadcast media. As an example, when the late baseball player Ken Caminiti told Sports Illustrated in 2002 that about half of all major league players use steroids to enhance athletic performance, mainstream sports journalists and government officials demanded that professional baseball institute drug testing procedures, which it did in August of that year (Denham, 2004). More recently, in March 2005, a veritable all-star team of current and former players testified before the Committee on Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives about continued steroid use in professional baseball.1 Following that hearing, the committee called on officials from the National Football League, and in subsequent months, a separate committee heard from officials representing professional basketball, hockey and soccer. Steroid use, in sum, has emerged and remained on the policy making agenda, if only as a consequence of political opportunism (i.e., the chance for elected officials to help "clean up" professional sports) stemming, in part, from dramatic media reports.

Because adolescents frequently idolize professional athletes, whom they observe earning millions of dollars and living glamorous lifestyles, they might be inclined to experiment with the drugs professionals have been known to use. Through mass communication, they also may develop inaccurate perceptions of health risks, as well as perceptions of normalcy about drug use in sports. Drawing on data gathered by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan in 2003, this article explores attitudes of high school seniors toward the use of anabolic steroids, with specific emphasis on the potential effects of mass communication in helping to shape those attitudes.

OVERWEW: ADOLESCENTS AND EXPERIMENTATION WITH ANABOLIC STEROIDS

The 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 6.8% of adolescent males and 5.3% of adolescent females had experimented anabolic steroids at some point in their lifetime. Yet, while scholars have examined relationships between exposure to mass communication and attitudes toward alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit drugs (Brown & Walsh-Childers, 2002), very few studies have included the use of steroids, and none have focused solely on that subject. Studies that have examined relationships between exposure to mass communication and attitudes of adolescents have focused largely on perceptions of ideal body image (Bissell, 2004; Harrison, 2000, 2001). Generally, where young women often develop unrealistic expectations of how thin they should be, young men often develop unrealistic expectations of how muscular they should appear (Frost, 2003; Murnen, Smolak, Mills, & Good, 2003). With respect to mass communication, young women observe emaciated models on the covers of magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Glamour, while young men often peruse the photographs in Muscle & Fitness and Flex. Members of both sexes often seek to emulate those they observe in glossy magazines-or in other venues of pop culture. …

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