During the first confinement caused by covid-19, in 2020, the consumption of substances to improve performance and personal image increased in Portugal, reveals a study involving researchers from the University of Porto (FMUP).
Speaking to the Lusa agency, researcher at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP) and CINTESIS Irene Carvalho clarified today that the research aimed to assess the impact of the restrictive measures imposed by the pandemic on self-image and excessive physical exercise, as well as in substance consumption.
Among the substances under evaluation are “anabolic steroids, sexual stimulants, growth hormones, vitamins, supplements, laxatives, teas, infusions, amphetamines”.
The international study, published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychiatry and involving researchers from FMUP and the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences (FPCEUP), collected data from participants from seven countries – Portugal, United Kingdom, Italy, Hungary, Spain, Lithuania and Japan – through standardized questionnaires.
In total, 3,161 people participated, of which 332 were Portuguese and with an average age of around 35 years.
Portuguese were the ones who most started the consumption of substances
The study showed that during the first confinement caused by covid-19 (April and May 2020) the Portuguese “were the ones who most started the consumption of these substances”.
“The study shows that Portugal has a rate of 11.9% of people who started using these substances with confinement. It was the country that started to use it the most. The closest country is Italy, with 8.6%, and then Lithuania, with 6.1%”, said Irene Carvalho, adding, however, that in Hungary there was no increase in this type of products.
According to the researcher, the most used substances were vitamins, proteins, caffeine, teas and infusions, followed by omega acids.
“The point is that these are substances that, despite not causing psychotropic effects, people find it difficult to stop using them. It’s not so much about the substance and its properties, but about how they are used, not for health reasons, but because of their appearance and performance”, he said.
The researcher stressed that the risk of consuming these substances lies in the purpose of their use, especially in the age of the Internet, in which “these products are sold as magic and quick solutions in advertising that is not only misleading, but aggressive”.
“This is the point: people embark on this adventure with the best of intentions, without medical supervision and without knowing what is happening. Here lies the danger and the problem.” observed.
The study also detected “considerable levels” of anxiety related to appearance, namely in Italy (18.1%), Japan (16.9%) and Portugal (16.7%).
“It is necessary to pay attention to particularly vulnerable people, for example, with greater anxiety about their image who may be more vulnerable to this type of publicity and the cultural norm of the perfect body”, he added.
The data also show that the practice of physical exercise significantly increased the likelihood of people using these products, with the UK and Spain recording the highest number of people who exercised excessively or problematically.
“We concluded that people who exercise more also consume more of these substances to improve image and performance”, added the researcher.