Young men are feeling increasingly pressurised to take potentially harmful anabolic steroids or similar substances in order to reshape their bodies, new UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) research indicates.
A survey carried out for UKAD Clean Sport Week 2019 found that a third - 34 per cent - of UK gym users surveyed said they were aware of other members taking Image and Performance Enhancing Drugs (IPEDs) while nearly a sixth - 14 per cent - knew someone suffering from the effects of IPED use.
Around 14 per cent confirmed they had taken an IPED at some point, with a quarter of that number - 27 per cent - still using, according to work carried out by UK Active Research Institute last May.
The most well-known IPEDs are anabolic steroids such as testosterone, nandrolone and stanozolol, which are frequently injected.
UKAD Chief Executive Nicole Sapstead said: "Young men are being bombarded with imagery of the ideal sculpted body on social media and through high-profile television programmes.
"However, not everyone has the motivation or, in fact, the physiology to achieve this body type through exercise and healthy eating, and some of these individuals may feel that IPEDs, and steroids in particular, is the only or fastest way to achieve their goal.
"This is why we are using the release of the UKAD status report on IPEDs in the UK to highlight what we believe is a public health issue that needs to be addressed now."
A UKAD release goes on to say: "Those who feel dissatisfied with their bodies could be tempted to take short cuts to achieve their goals, particularly at this time of year when ;new year, new body' transformations are being widely promoted across all media.“
According to a 2016 IPED Survey carried out by by John Moores University, 56 per cent of users took steroids for improving body image or cosmetic reasons and the most common demographic for steroid use was males aged 20 to 24.
Other reasons reported for steroid use include non-competitive bodybuilding - 45 per ceent - and enhancing sports performance - 27 per cent.
Regularly taking anabolic steroids can lead to physical and psychological changes in both men and women, as well as potentially dangerous medical conditions such as heart attack, stroke, liver and kidney failure, high blood pressure and blood clots.
Anabolic steroids are class C drugs which can only be sold by pharmacists with a prescription.
It is not illegal to have anabolic steroids for personal use.
UKAD Chair Trevor Pearce said: "The increasing availability and ease of acquiring anabolic steroids via social media and the internet is extremely alarming.
"UKAD has recently spoken to several individuals who obtain anabolic steroids via Facebook or WhatsApp, while another recent report in the press revealed the worrying trade of anabolic steroids on Instagram.
"This highlights the need for a greater multi-agency approach between Government, anti-doping agencies, law enforcement, public health bodies, educational institutions, sports and social media companies, to look at the current landscape around the illicit trade in IPEDs, and ultimately increase action to tackle this problem."