Written evidence submitted by Dr Ornella Corazza (MISS0005)

Body Image at the time of COVID-19



The current coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is posing new critical challenges on mental health, especially among the most vulnerable, due to (a)  widespread social alarm, with overall increase of anxiety states, somatic concerns and mood sensitivity; (b) long lasting “physical distancing” as a result of public health protection measures or voluntary conduct.

In a period of uncertainty, certain rewarding behaviours, such as exercise, the use of the Internet, especially social media, among other coping strategies might have increased considerably. Although some of these potentially addictive behaviours might be beneficial and help individuals to alleviate stress and difficult thoughts, they might also contribute to severely impaired and long-lasting conditions, including the development into habits that are difficult to break. In response, we promptly initiated a study on the impact of “self-distancing” on body-image, exercise and the use of Internet as coping strategies to mitigate the pandemic effects. We are also investigating the role played by influencers at this difficult time and how their posts can influence followers’ self-image and behaviours. With the support of my research team, an online questionnaire was designed and disseminated via social media and other channels among the adult populations. This includes various validated scales on Body Image Disorders, Self-Compassion, Exercise Addiction, Social Media/Internet use, among other behaviours during physical distancing. The study has been approved by the University of Hertfordshire Ethics Committee on 3rd April 2020 (Protocol number: aHSK/SF/UH/00104(2)). Our work rapidly gained an international appeal and the questionnaire has now been translated into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Lithuanian, Hungarian, and Japanese. It involves the collaboration among 31 researchers, mainly front-line professionals.


Expected results

As far as we know this is the first study investigating body image issues during the Covid-19 pandemic. In just a few weeks, we were able to collect approximately 3,000 responses. We are unable to anticipate the results at this stage as the study is still ongoing. We are planning to start the data analysis in June 2020 and complete this over the Summer.

We strongly feel this would be an important and timely contribution to this Inquiry. Results will provide original data on Body Image and related issues as well as help us to identify the most vulnerable population and the riskiest behaviours in order to inform more targeted future interventions in the field.

Although this remains a poorly studied area, our recent work in the field (Corazza et al 2019; Mooney et al 2017) revealed that 38% (47% in case of female) of those engaging in regular physical activities were significantly affected by body image anxiety, low self-esteem and had a tendency to engage in addictive behaviours, including the use of drugs/medicine and other enhancing products to “look better” (e.g. lose weight, gain muscles). In 95% of the cases these products were taken with no medical supervision.

There is an urgent need for collaborative work on Body Image and we are keen to support your Inquiry in order to implement evidence-based policy making.

About the submitter


I submit this report on behalf of the Keep Fit team (31 researchers), which supported my effort in a situation of emergency. I am an Associate Professor/Reader at the University of Hertfordshire, where I lead multidisciplinary research in the field of drug and other behavioural addictions, especially in relation to the problematic use of the internet. Over the year, I have developed an increasing interest on body Image issues and the use performance and image enhancing drugs.  Results of my work have been presented in over hundred peer-reviewed publications, seven books (two award-winning), including the recent Novel Psychoactive Substances: Policy, Economics and Drug Regulations (Springer 2017) The Handbook of Novel Psychoactive Substances (Routledge 2018), Body and Mind: exercise addition, body dysmorphic disorders and the use of performance enhancing drugs (Cambridge University Press 2021), Emerging Drugs in Sport (Springer 2021), and numerous invited lectures and media appearances. Much of my time is spent lecturing at conferences and teaching medical postgraduate students, psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, and others about behavioural addictions, internet addiction disorder, the neurobiology of addiction, body image-disorders. My academic achievements have been recognized with various prizes and award nominations, including the prestigious European Health Award 2013. I am the President of the International Society for the Study of Emerging Drugs (ISSED) and I serve as an expert advisor for the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), among other national and international organisations. The basic theme of my research is to find out new strategies to improve health and wellbeing, while promoting innovative approaches and international cooperation for a major global impact. 



April 2020


Corazza, O., Simonato, P., Demetrovics, Z., Mooney, R., van de Ven, K., Roman-Urresterazu, A., Rácmolnár, L., De Luca, I., Cinosi, E., Santacroce, R., Marini, M., Wellsted, D., Sullivan, K., Bersani, G., Martinotti, G. (2018) The Emergence of Exercise Addiction, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and other Image-related psychopathological correlates in Fitness Settings: a cross sectional study, PLoS ONE 14(4):e0213060. ISSN: 1932-6203; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0213060

Mooney, R., Simonato, P., Ruparelia, R., RomanUrrestarazu, A., Martinotti, G., & Corazza, O. (2017). The use of supplements and performance and image enhancing drugs in fitness settings: A exploratory crosssectional investigation in the United Kingdom. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, May;32(3). doi: 10.1002/hup.2619