December 1, 2014
Taylor Hooton rep addresses students at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School
By Esther Lovett Staff Writer Illegal substances are not confined to the hard drugs we hear about from Wellness Collaborative educator Will Slotnick. They can come in the seemingly innocuous dietary and performance-enhancing supplements now widely used by high school students, Taylor Hooton Foundation Educational Program Manager Brian Parker said. During a mandatory X block assembly on October 23, Mr. Parker educated the Upper School about the dangers of using supplements, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), and anabolic steroids. He then delved into the complexities of both steroid use and abstinence in environments focused on competitive sports and body image. Teachers, coaches, and students alike responded positively to the speaker, praising Mr. Parker’s talk as accessible, quickly paced, and informative. “Any time you get information like that out in the public forum, it’s good,” Boys Varsity Lacrosse Coach Rory Morton ’81 said. “There is so much misinformation out there, and so much of it is relegated to urban myths.” He added that peer pressure, high self-expectations, and students’ urges to try new things all contribute to the prevalence of steroids. “No place is exempt from that kind of pressure or experimentation,” he said. Established in 2004 in memory of the late Taylor Hooton, who committed suicide at the age of 17 after falling into depression from anabolic steroid withdrawal, the foundation aims to “educate youth and their adult influencers about the dangers of steroids and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs) while raising awareness of the scope of the problem,” according to the foundation’s website. Mr. Parker started the assembly by screening a video that related Taylor’s story before featuring several steroid users who warned viewers against steroid use—a problem Mr. Parker said is more widespread than most students believe. Despite pulling in billions of dollars of profit every year, Mr. Parker said, the supplement industry has little to no government regulation, leading 18 to 25 percent of current over-the-counter supplements to contain steroids. In many cases, Mr. Parker added, the label on the supplement’s package does not match the product’s contents. Problems with supplements are especially relevant to the school, Athletic Trainer Kathy Gruning said, because while she suspects few students knowingly use steroids, many do use supplements. Athletic Director Rick Foresteire ’86 said that the attention steroid users get in daily conversation, along with media portrayals of body image and overuse of the word “steroid,” wrongly causes steroids to seem “acceptable” to many. “The way [Mr. Parker] looked at the evolution of Superman revealed something about our culture,” Mr. Foresteire said, referring to the speaker’s juxtaposition of a 1970s Superman of modest build versus today’s model, which is unrealistically muscular. “While watching television the last couple of nights, I’ve noticed the way body image is portrayed more,” Mr. Foresteire added. Director of Health and Fitness Henri Andre also blamed the media for awarding multi-million-dollar deals to teams whose athletes will do anything to gain “success” and for featuring APED users who have no repercussions for using these illegal drugs. “If we didn’t give so much coverage to these people, steroids wouldn’t be a problem,” Mr. Andre said. “A lot of spectators don’t really care if the person is taking supplements as long as the team wins. The media and team owners promote winning at all costs.” Though Mr. Parker said the typical steroid user is a high achiever—a familiar profile at BB&N—Mr. Foresteire said the school’s Strength and Conditioning Program is dedicated to getting students to their top fitness levels without using any unnatural substances. The program opposes all steroids, even legal ones, he stressed. But Mr. Andre recognized the gap that can exist between what teenagers hear and what they do. “Unfortunately, not all athletes are receptive to the suggestions we make about staying away from these things,” Mr. Andre said. “Judgment at this age is not fully developed, making it easy for companies to create this multibillion-dollar industry from teens.” Mr. Andre said he hopes instead to promote healthier habits in the school’s athletes through what he calls the “four elements of lifestyle”—sleeping, eating, exercising, and managing stress. “BB&N is a school that revolves around athletics, so education about this issue is vital,” Student Health Advisory Board Member Isaac Sebenius ’15 agreed. According to Nurse Julie Lindstrom, the Student Health Advisory Board hopes to bring educational and service opportunities regarding health to the community. The group worked to bring the Taylor Hooton Foundation to the school and sponsored the blood drive. Isaac added that he believes the assembly was relevant even to people who would never use supplements or steroids because “it talked about the much larger issue of body image, which likely affects everyone in the BB&N community.” Sophie Taibl ’16 said that the information presented by Mr. Parker was “very similar” to the results Sophie helped collect from the student community as part of a Massachusetts General Hospital body image awareness project last spring. “Our data found that a lot of people were compelled to change their bodies because of sports,” she said, “and the assembly addressed the dangers of that.” The Student Health Advisory Board hopes to continue discussing body image issues by bringing in a speaker from the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center later this year.