Linn Goldberg, M.D.

07/20/2009 - A Q & A with Dr. Linn Goldberg on anabolic steroid use. Once limited to professional and Olympic athletes, it has now invaded high school sports.

Hockey Pic Article Size

Anabolic steroid use, once limited to professional and Olympic athletes, has invaded high school sports. Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2003 report, approximately 850,000 high school students have admitted using steroids.

Recently, a SOM public health outreach program was recognized by the National Football League and Sports Illustrated Magazine for its success at providing teen athletes with healthy alternatives to steroids, sports supplements, alcohol and other drugs.

The ATLAS (Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) and ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) programs are directed by Linn Goldberg, M.D., and Diane Elliot, M.D., both SoM Professors of Medicine (Health Promotion and Sports Medicine).

ATLAS and ATHENA have been designated effective by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Schools in more than 30 states and Puerto Rico have now implemented the programs. Dr. Goldberg recently sat down to talk about his programs.

Q: What accounts for the success of the ATLAS and ATHENA programs?

A: Our research showed that we could change teen behavior if it was peer-taught, gender-specific and involved an influential coach within a small group. We designed our programs around these factors. The programs are about kids influencing kids – a very powerful motivator at this age.

Q: What role does gender play in the success of these programs?

A: The reasons male and female athletes use drugs are fundamentally different. If you don't accommodate these differences, the students get bored and the programs are unsuccessful. Generally, we found that boys are trying to get as large as possible while girls want to be smaller for both appearance reasons and to help them move faster. Also, for example, some male teen athletes tend to be sensation seekers while young women may suffer from disordered eating or depression.

Q: Why do ATLAS and ATHENA address all drug use rather than just steroids?

A: Our research showed that steroid use is linked to other drugs and alcohol abuse. You can't just look at steroid use in isolation.

Q: How is the National Football League supporting the programs?

The NFL gave us a $1.2 million grant to disseminate ATLAS and ATHENA to 20,000 high school athletes and 800 coaches in 40 high schools for the next school year. Eight NFL teams will sponsor five local high schools among their own fan base. This is tremendously exciting because we will reach so many new athletes. We are also working with the NFL to develop a Web site with information on sports nutrition, training and drug prevention for athletes and coaches.

Q: What is the role of Sports Illustrated?

The $1 million grant includes a year's worth of public service announcements ads in Sports Illustrated, featuring ATLAS and ATHENA as national models (pictured above). We were also able to implement the programs in four states among 31 high schools.

Q: How does it make you feel to have ATLAS and ATHENA so widely disseminated?

Exhausted. We do the bulk of the training so we are traveling all the time. But this is potentially a widespread public health behavior intervention. We hope we are positively affecting these athletes in ways that will last their entire life.

Q: What was your motivation to pursue this work?

I have played sports all my life and I have five sons. We have a basketball court in the back, none of us are great athletes but we like to participate. Sports are meant to be fun and healthy and I want to encourage that part of it, and discourage the pressure that makes kids turn to performance enhancers.