A recent episode of news program Kveikur brought to light just how common steroid use is in Iceland, particularly among young men. Testosterone prescriptions have increased dramatically over the last decade, and are double the rate prescribed elsewhere in the Nordic region. Icelanders are also 50% more likely than individuals in other western nations to suffer from body dysmorphic disorder.
Hafrún Kristjánsdóttir is a psychologist and sociologist, as well as former athlete, who researches the behaviour of young men and athletes. She says men get the message from a young age that it’s important to be big and strong. “You are a five-year-old boy and your heroes in life are Superman, Batman, and Hulk, and men like that, and they are all on steroids. If you look at them. They have a big six-pack and they are swollen. And it’s not uncommon to see little boys in playschool flex their muscles and when they draw themselves, they’re drawing a six pack.”
Icelanders had such a role model in Jón Páll Sigarmsson, a strongman, powerlifter, and bodybuilder who was first in the world to win the World’s Strongest Man title four times. Steroid use is widely considered a factor in his early death at the age of 32. His son Sigmar Freyr Jónsson spoke frankly about his own use of steroids in the episode, saying although they first made him feel energised and confident, they quickly began to affect his quality of life. “When I was at my strongest and heaviest, I didn’t feel like I was strong,” Sigmar stated, describing negative side effects such as loss of sex drive and even breast development, which led him to undergo several surgeries. “I stopped using steroids for a whole year, and I was a little worried because I wasn’t yet 30 but I felt that my sex drive and virility didn’t come back for a whole year.” Sigmar stated. “It wasn’t a direct fear of death that made me stop. It was more just wanting a better quality of life.”
Brigir Sverrisson, CEO of the Doping Control Committee of the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland, says the organisation wants to work with gyms to combat steroid use. “Gyms have expressed interest in taking a stand against drug abuse and they have a lot of power to do so,” he stated.