Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) found that using indoor tanning devices was linked
to binge drinking, having sex and using unsafe methods to control
weight among high school students.
"I think it's important to understand the prevalence of indoor
tanning and its relation to other risky behaviors," Gery Guy, Jr.,
the study's lead author from the CDC, told Reuters Health.
Understanding the relationship between other behaviors and indoor
tanning can help public health advocates to understand the tanners'
motivations and better target campaigns to dissuade the practice.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the American Medical
Association and the American Academy of Dermatology have come out
against indoor tanning in recent years.
In 2009, WHO labeled tanning devices as high-level carcinogens,
which puts tanning on par with tobacco use as a public health
In 2007, a working group affiliated with WHO found that people who
used tanning beds before their 30th birthday were 75 percent more
likely to develop melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer.
That added risk translates, for example, to about seven more women
out of every 10,000 developing melanoma. One past study showed that
24 out of 10,000 women who regularly used tanning beds developed
melanoma compared to 17 out 10,000 women who rarely or never used
For the new study, the researchers analyzed data from two national
CDC surveys of high school students in grades nine through 12 that
asked about various behaviors related to their health. The surveys
were conducted in 2009 and 2011.
About 16 percent of students said they had used indoor tanning
devices in the 2009 survey and about 13 percent reported indoor
tanning in the 2011 survey. The difference, however, could have been
due to chance.
Also, in both years, the researchers write in JAMA Dermatology that
female students were more likely to report using indoor tanning
devices compared to males. That applied especially to older and
non-Hispanic white students.
As for other risky behaviors, both male and female students who
reported indoor tanning were more likely to report binge drinking,
having sex and using unhealthy methods to control their weight.
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Among girls, illegal drug use and having had sex with four or
more partners were also more likely among those who used indoor
Using steroids that weren't prescribed by a doctor, smoking daily
and attempting suicide were more common among male students who used
indoor tanning, Guy and his colleagues found.
Students who tanned were also more likely to play on sports teams
and to eat vegetables.
Together these results, coupled with previous research, indicate
that indoor tanners may be motivated by a desire to improve their
appearance, the researchers suggest.
"Thus, efforts to reduce indoor tanning may be more successful if
they address appearance-based motives and emphasize the detrimental
appearance aspects of indoor tanning rather than solely focusing on
the negative health effects," they write.
For example, Guy said using videos to show the effects of UV
radiation on a person's skin may be more effective than pushing out
a general health message.
"Early intervention is key among this population to avoid having the
behavior continue into the adulthood," he said.
JAMA Dermatology, online February 26, 2014.
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