Doctoral student in a lab

Blood Work - Exploring Direct to Consumer Health Monitoring and Performance Enhancement

  • School: School of Science and Technology
  • Funding: Self-funded

Overview

Needle and syringe exchange programmes were developed as part of harm reduction policies in the mid-1980s. While this was largely as a response to public fears about the threat of HIV/AIDS, they also acted to provide users with various support mechanisms, targeted education, signpost treatments and medical screening. Despite originally being aimed at users of psychoactive drugs, evidence has demonstrated that such programmes are increasingly used by anabolic androgenic steroids (ASS) users. This has resulted in ‘steroid clinics’ being set up which provide a service geared directly towards the specific needs of such people. And with evidence that steroid and performance enhancing drug usage is still rising, it would be fair to conclude that the importance of such programmes will continue to increase (Sagoe et al. 2014). This has led Kimergard and McVeigh (2014) to call for research to help shed light on those who use such clinics as a means of managing the impending public health issues which are associated with steroid abuse.

The recent rise of companies that specialise in direct to consumer health monitoring, testing and screening, adds a new level of complexity to attempts to research harm reduction programmes. Such companies have led the development of products that circumvent clinicians as well as medical programmes and health promoting initiatives. Such direct access to medical testing aligns with increases in individual health consciousness and are promoted as providing a personalised, pre-emptive, private and convenient means of enhancing and maintaining health. While the nuances of the American health system means this might be seen in a somewhat positive light (Pitkin et al., 2017), a recent article in The BMJ highlights the potential cost of such testing to the NHS (McCartney, 2018).

More specifically in the UK, companies offering ‘blood work’, a term that been imported from America which describes various blood testing protocols, are targeting online bodybuilding communities (both ‘natural’ and enhanced) with a variety of products. Here, MediChecks, Youth Revisited and Transform Now, are three examples of companies using ‘fitness influencers’ social media reach to market themselves to young, usually male, audiences. A variety of tests are advertised offering users the ability to discover their hormonal levels, nutrient deficiencies, markers of heart, liver and kidney health and various other options. It appears that those taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are using such services to monitor both the effectiveness of their ‘stack’ (the combination of drugs being injected and taken orally) and apparent markers of health/ill-health. There is a complete lack of academic knowledge around this relatively new phenomenon. As such, the following study will address the following questions:

  • Who uses direct to consumer ‘blood work’ and why?
  • What do consumers do with the information they receive from these tests?
  • Are ‘online coaches’ specialising in helping people interpret results from ‘blood work’ and, if so, what are their qualifications and what type of advice do they dispense?
  • How do users modify potentially damaging behaviours after getting ‘blood work’ done?
  • Is there evidence of an extra burden being placed on the NHS due to such tests?

The successful candidate will be able to demonstrate a willingness to develop skills in various qualitative research methods, an interest in the broad area of study and an ability to work well independently and under academic supervision.

References

Kimergard, A. and McVeigh, J. (2014) Variability and dilemmas in harm reduction for anabolic steroid users in the UK: a multi-area interview study. Harm Reduction Journal, 2, 11-19

McCartney, M. (2018) How Private Screening Costs the NHS. The BMJ, 360,k598, 273

Pitkin, F., Watson, L., Foster, R. Poorman, T. and Martin, A. (2017) Direct to Consumer Laboratory Testing: A Review. Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Research, 5(2), 164-166.

Sagoe, D., Molde, H., Andreassen, S.C., Torsheim, T. and Pallensen, S. (2014) The global epidemiology of anabolic-androgenic steroid use: a meta-analysis and meta-regression analysis. The Annals of Epidemiology, 24(5), 383-398.

Supervisors

Dr Christopher Matthews

Dr Gavin Weedon

Dr John Hough

Professor John Hunt

Entry qualifications

Entrants must have a first/undergraduate Honours degree, with an Upper Second Class or a First Class grade, in Biological Sciences, Sport Sciences, Social Sciences or a related subject area. Entrants with a Lower Second Class grade at first degree must also have a postgraduate Masters Degree at Merit or Commendation.

How to apply

How to apply

Application deadline is 31/01/2020 at 11:59 pm.

Interviews will take place from 01/02/2020 to 31/02/2020.

Download an application form here.
Please make sure you take a look at our application guidance notes before making your application.

Further information on how to apply can be found on this page.

Fees and funding

This is a self funded studentship opportunity.

Guidance and support

Further guidance and support on how to apply can be found on this page.

Still need help?

Christopher Matthews