NIDA Study Finds High School Program Yields Health Benefits for Female Athletes
ATHENA Reduces Substance Abuse, Encourages Healthy Behaviors
New research that focuses on a health promotion program supported
by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes
of Health, shows the program decreased the abuse of stimulant medications
and other substances believed to enhance body image or performance
among female high school athletes, while encouraging healthy behaviors.
The study, led by Dr. Diane Elliot and Dr. Linn Goldberg at Oregon
Health & Science University, is published in the November issue
of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The curriculum, named ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise
and Nutrition Alternatives), is sport-team centered and taught
by coaches and student leaders during 8 weekly 45-minute sessions
that are incorporated into team practice activities. Topics include
healthy nutrition, effective exercise training, the effects of
drug abuse and other harmful behaviors on sport performance, media
images of women, and depression prevention.
“It is important to develop effective prevention programs
for adolescents, because this is a time when areas of the brain
critical to impulse control, decision-making, and judgment undergo
dramatic changes and adolescents are asserting their independence,” says
NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “This study shows that
early promotion of healthy lifestyles can help deter disordered
eating, substance abuse, and other detrimental behaviors.”
The study enrolled 928 students from 40 participating sport teams
in 18 public high schools in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington
State. For each team that elected to participate, the scientists
recruited a similar team from another school that acted as a control
group. Members of the control teams were offered preprinted material
about eating disorders, drug abuse, and sports nutrition.
Students filled out questionnaires before and after their sport
season. An analysis of pre- to post-season data indicates that
information transmitted to the teens via the ATHENA program helped
reduce abuse of diet pills and other substances, such as amphetamines,
anabolic steroids, and muscle-building supplements. For example,
student athletes who participated in the program were almost three
times less likely than the control students to start using diet
pills, and about one and one-half times less likely to use amphetamines,
anabolic steroids, and muscle-building supplements. Students who
participated in the program also were two and one-half times less
likely than their control counterparts to become sexually active.
They also were more likely to use seatbelts, had positive changes
in eating and strength-training behaviors, and experienced fewer
“Responses to survey questions also showed that student
athletes who participated in the ATHENA program also were less
likely to consider future use of diet pills, tobacco, self-induced
vomiting to lose weight, and the nutritional supplement creatine,” says
Dr. Elliot. “ATHENA participants were better able to prevent
depression and less affected by advertisements and social pressure.
Those abilities may help these young female athletes make healthier
choices in the future.”
“Disordered eating habits and the abuse of body-shaping
and muscle-building agents, especially anabolic steroids, among
young female athletes is of increasing concern,” notes Dr.
Volkow. “Programs that promote healthy alternatives can act
to deter drug abuse and other potentially harmful actions among
this vulnerable population.”
An adolescent male athlete program entitled ATLAS (Athletes Training & Learning
to Avoid Steroids), funded by NIDA and designed by the lead researchers
of ATHENA, found significant benefits using a similar peer-led,
sport team-centered intervention, with less alcohol and illicit
drug use, reduced drinking and driving, and improved nutrition
behavior one year after participating in the program.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National
Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NIDA supports more than 85 percent of the world’s research
on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute
carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination
of research information and its implementation in policy and
practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse
and information on NIDA research and other activities can be
found on the NIDA home page at http://www.drugabuse.gov.