Videos promoting steroids have been viewed hundreds of millions of times on TikTok in recent years. These videos target teenagers and young adults in search of the perfect body. They also trivialize the consumption of anabolics which can lead to serious health and dependence problems in the long term.
Steroids are taking over TikTok
The dangerousness of taking steroids has been raised for several years by doctors and scientists, authorities and various organizations. However, a recent report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), an NGO fighting dangerous content on social networks, identified videos promoting steroids or related products viewed 587 million times on TikTok over the course of over the last three years, including 420 million by users aged 18 to 24.
These videos tend to minimize, or even trivialize, the consumption of these testosterone-based anabolics which promote muscle development. One of them, for example, invites young subscribers to make their parents believe that they are taking vitamins. Videos particularly target teenagers with hashtags like #teenfitness or #teenbodybuilding. On TikTok, the hashtag #steroid alone has 740 million views. But, according to the CCDH, it is very complicated to really quantify the number of people who have viewed this type of content.
As a reminder, in most countries, the sale of steroids is illegal (without a prescription issued by a healthcare professional). This is particularly the case in Europe. Steroids have unfortunately always been a part of the fitness world. According to a study published last June in the journal National Library of Medicine, “Approximately 3 to 4 million Americans have used anabolic-androgenic steroids to increase muscle mass, whether for athletic purposes to improve performance or for cosmetic purposes to improve their appearance”. However, multiple studies have demonstrated the consequences of these anabolics on health and their multiple side effects. Among them: tremors, high blood pressure or even liver tumor. The fitness influencers highlighted by the report completely fail to mention these risks in their videos.
Great powers imply great muscles?
To explain this attraction of young people to steroids, Imran Ahmed, the general director of the CCDH, points out the beauty dictates that men are also subject to. To be virile, to please women, you have to be muscular. “Young men are told they are less likely to succeed in life if they don’t achieve a drug-dependent ‘Avengers’ body type.”, he explains in the report. Imran Ahmed is directly targeting Marvel films and their ultra-muscular superheroes which for around fifteen years have conveyed an image of the hero, and of the very strong man, with oversized biceps and ultra-defined abs.
This injunction would push adolescents and young adults to push weight and accelerate their muscle gain using steroids. It must be said that by observing the actors hired to play superheroes in the Marvel universe (or other superhero franchises), they too transform physically to correspond to their role. In the summer of 2013, Chris Pratt created a big buzz on social networks by posting a photo of himself with his new abs. He would not be the only one to have abstained from a strict diet and intense bodybuilding sessions to get into the skin of his character. Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor) or Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) would have done the same.
But for Dr. Todd Schroeder, associate professor of clinical physical therapy and director of the Clinical Exercise Research Center at the University of Southern California, these muscular transformations are not just the result of diets and strength training sessions. According to him, most of these stars would have resorted to steroids, “at least in the short term”, he confided to Vanity Fair. “I would say that this is the case for 50 to 75% of them”. Except that these Hollywood actors are surrounded by multiple specialists who can control their possible use of anabolics, so as not to make them dependent. Something that young people, alone in their corner, without wise advice, cannot do.
The CCDH also reportedly detected 35 influencer accounts actively involved in the promotion of these products through partnerships with merchant sites capable of supplying steroids. These influencers have a total of almost two million subscribers, and videos liked around 63 million times in total. “TikTok is responsible for keeping the platform safe and enforcing community guidelines, but our research found that the platform turns a blind eye to the promotion of dangerous and potentially illegal drugsaccording to Imran Ahmed.
In recent days, the platform has removed all videos related to the promotion of steroids. When you type “teenfitness” or “teenbodybuilding”, the pages no longer display any videos.