A recent study published in the United Kingdom states that "one in three gym users take drugs or supplements to lose weight," claiming that body image anxiety is causing an upward trend in the use of performance and image-enhancing drugs. The study further purports that 5% of gym users use "amphetamine" for losing weight.
The study was performed based on a questionnaire from 433 people either through face to face interviews in gyms or through an online survey targeted at fitness enthusiasts. The most commonly used products for weight loss were said to be "protein supplements (58%)", "herbal products (34%)", and "amphetamines (17%)." There are several issues with this particular study that should be examined more closely.
Drugs and Supplements are NOT the Same ThingFirst, the title of the study is misleading reporting that one in three gym users take drugs OR supplements to lose weight. Drugs and supplements are two different substances that should not be categorized as one.
Drugs are typically prescribed for the prevention, diagnosis, alleviation, treatment, or cure of a disease. Supplements on the other hand complete or enhance the rest of our existing diets. Placing these two items into a single category is like comparing apples to oranges it simply does not work.
Placing Supplements Under a Negative LightThe second point of note is the media is portraying supplements with a negative connotation in an attempt to scare the public into believing they are inherently bad.
A supplement replaces or aides individuals with areas of their diet that are lacking. Fish oil is a supplement useful for bone and joint health if an individual is not a frequent fish consumer. Multi-vitamins aide individuals that are lacking in certain micronutrients.
Supplement is such a broad umbrella term that cannot be easily defined to one distinct category. Are there bad supplement companies on the market? Yes. Are there good supplement companies on the market? Absolutely.
As with any substance that we are putting into our bodies we should be cognizant of the ingredients, side effects, and lab research behind them.
The Study Was Poorly ExecutedAdditionally, the parameters in which the study was performed were vague and poorly executed.
The study only surveyed 433 people which is not large enough to make a valid conclusion representative of the entire population. A survey of this size has a margin of error of approximately 5% having a drastic effect on the results.
The participants either answered questionnaires face to face in gyms or through online surveys targeted at "fitness enthusiasts." The study does not specify what percentage of the participants used either method. Furthermore, what constitutes a "fitness enthusiast?"
This could be a person with little to no experience or someone searching general nutrition on the Internet. A person with little to no extensive background in training or nutrition may be confused about what a supplement is or what it should do.
Incorrect Definition of a Weight Loss SupplementLastly, the study incorrectly defines what a weight loss supplement is. The research says "the most commonly used products for weight loss were protein supplements and herbal products."
First off, since when is a protein supplement considered a weight loss product?
The last time I checked protein is meant to supplement our daily dietary needs when we do not consume sufficient amounts. Protein powder is simply a food source with calories and no thermogenic effects. This is equivalent to saying that chicken is a weight loss supplement.
The second supplement mentioned was listed as "herbal products." Once again the study does not define what a herbal product is. For all intensive purposes green tea may be considered an herbal product. These substances are all mislabeled making the study invalid.
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Are Supplements Making You Depressed?The study is painting a false picture saying that the use of supplements makes individuals feel depressed or bothered. No other factors were taken into account. Perhaps the people included within the study had pre-existing risk factors or a history of depression making them susceptible to mental health issues. In order to have accurate results a control group must be included to create viable results that actually substantiate results.
A study that is given to such a limited population size with incorrectly defined variables and lack of a control group cannot be considered to have any significant relevance. The main thing to remember when reviewing the results of any study is to take a step back and consider...
A) Whether the correct variables are being examined,
B) if the study makes logical sense, and
C) is the party conducting the study or reporting it simply trying to implement tactics aimed to shock the general populationAlways practice a certain degree of skepticism before jumping to irrational conclusions. Be sure to follow me on Instagram @ryanrodal and subscribe to our YouTube channel TigerFitnessSquad for more nutrition advice and workout tips!