Fitspiration is leading to risk of exercise addiction, image related disorders and use of performance-enhancing substances amongst gym-goers

4 April 2019

With the trend for fitness becoming synonymous with strength, beauty and even status, a new study by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, published today in journal PLOS ONE, has identified the emergence of Exercise Addiction and resulting physical and mental-health issues amongst vulnerable gym-goers.

The research studied 1,711 gym users internationally* and concluded that societal pressure for the perfect body, often from social media, is leading to the emergence of a new condition of Exercise Addiction. The study found 11.7% of gym-goers are at risk of Exercise Addiction, which can lead to image anxiety, low self-esteem and image-related psychopathologies, such as body dysmorphic disorders, as well as leading to unhealthy eating and training regimes and the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Furthermore, 38.5 per cent of participants were found to be at risk of body dysmorphic disorders (BDD), with a greater risk of BDD amongst female gym-goers (47%). Worryingly, 39.8% used fitness-enhancing supplements without medical consultation (for example steroids 5.9%, diuretics 4.9% and growth hormones 1.8%).

Evidence has emerged in this study that calls for more targeted prevention activities and novel clinical management strategies for vulnerable individuals.

The millions of selfies and ‘fitspiration’ images posted and shared on social media every day are promoting a drive for the perfect body. However, this unrealistic representation of fitness is doing more harm than good, and the pressure to look perfect is affecting people’s mental wellbeing. The increase in appearance anxiety may lead people to adopt unhealthy and risky strategies to reach their fitness and appearance goals, no matter what the costs.

Dr Ornella Corazza
Reader in Substance Addictions and Behaviours at the University of Hertfordshire

*The research studied a large cross-sectional sample of 1,711 participants in fitness settings in the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Hungary.

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