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Issued:13/12/16

Gym goers and amateur athletes are being targeted by a European-wide project to prevent the use of performance enhancing drugs.

The project - SAFE YOU+: Strengthening the anti-doping fight in fitness and exercise in youth - is targeting young exercisers and amateur athletes (16-25 years old) with an educational tool to help them resist doping use.

The project is led in the UK by Sheffield Hallam University and Kingston University, with Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, taking the European-wide lead, and follows on from the successful project SAFE YOU (funded by the European Commission in 2014).

Recent research has identified an increase in the use of doping substances in amateur and fitness sports.People as young as 12 years of age self-report use of performance enhancement substances like anabolic steroids, and the SAFE YOU project showed that at least 1 in 10 young adult recreational exercisers have used anabolic steroids at least once in their lifetime.

The SAFE YOU tool is an online, open-access, user-friendly educational resource that was jointly developed by expert scientists and young exercisers in the UK and four other European countries.

The tool can be freely accessed through the project's website (http://safeyou.eu/), does not require any sort of subscription or fees, and provides expert advice about how to address doping use in recreational sports.  The second phase of the project, SAFE YOU+, will develop the tool further to help bridge the gap between recreational and competitive sport.

By using the tool, exercisers across Europe can improve their knowledge about the myths and realities of doping use and learn how to make informed decisions about this issue. It also features case studies and training plans to help fitness instructors and coaches deliver workshops on the themes of substance use.

The SAFE YOU project was brought to the attention of many of the world's leading authorities on doping in sport at the 1st International Conference on the Prevention of Doping in Sport, which recently took place in Athens, Greece. 

Dr Lambros Lazuras, senior lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, and co-investigator for SAFE YOU+, said: "Doping in sports has received global attention in recent years due to some very high-profile cases - but sports doping has now extended to a much wider audience, recreational sports, and unless timely preventive action is taken it will become a major societal and public health challenge. 

"Doping in exercise settings and amateur sports has arguably become more important than in elite sports. Average gym goers and amateur athletes are putting themselves at risk through lack of knowledge, reduced accountability, and the inability to regulate intake of what could be potentially very dangerous substances.

"This Safe You+ project will target those at risk of engaging in sports doping practices and provide them with the knowledge, confidence and autonomy to reject this practice."

United Kingdom SAFE YOU and SAFE YOU+ project lead Professor Andrea Petróczi, an expert in public health at Kingston University, said: “People who are determined to use a substance to achieve a desired goal will do so and will seek out information wherever it's available, often relying on informal networks of like-minded individuals on the internet rather than authoritative facts. It is our duty to do everything we can to tackle that and help these young people understand their bodies, know what these substances do and make an informed decision.

“As well as the long-term health risks associated with using performance and appearance-enhancing substances, in many cases these young people are ordering online from rogue websites or unlicensed sources with no way of knowing what is actually in them – which is incredibly dangerous.

“We have to face facts, we are living in an enhancement society and there has probably never been a time when direct, tangible solutions were more important to prevent the harm that could befall so many of the current generation of young people.”

SAFE YOU+, which has received funding through the European Union's Erasmus+ fund, will commence in January 2017 and run for two years. 

For press information: Please contact Martin Webb in the Sheffield Hallam University press office on 0114 225 2621 or email m.webb@shu.ac.uk