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Tanning Tied to Other Risky Behaviors in Teens

Update Date: Feb 28, 2014 10:24 AM EST

Indoor tanning is an extremely risky habit to pick up. Several studies have found that people who frequently use indoor tanning salons increase their risk of developing skin cancer. In a new study, researchers examined the relationship between indoor tanning and other risky behaviors. They concluded that American teenagers who are more likely to use indoor tanning salons are also more likely to have other bad habits.

"We saw that indoor tanning is associated with a number of other risky behaviors, such as illegal drug use, binge drinking and smoking," said study lead author Gery Guy Jr. who is a health economist from the division of cancer prevention and control with the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "We also found that teens who tan indoors are likely to be very concerned about their appearance. That sometimes leads to positive behaviors, like engaging in sports and eating healthy foods. But it also leads to unhealthy behaviors, such as steroid use or extreme weight control."

For this study, the researchers analyzed data collected by the Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. These surveys were filled out every year by a nationally representative group of around 15.5 million high school students from the United States. The researchers looked at around 26,000 students who answered questions regarding indoor tanning starting in 2009 when they were 14-years-old. The surveys for this group of students lasted through to 2011.

The researchers reported that overall, around 13 percent of students reported using indoor tanning booths in 2011. Over 50 percent of this group of teenagers stated that they went tanning at least 10 times within the past year. When the researchers looked at gender differences, they found that fewer girls went to tanning salons. In 2009, around 26 percent of high school girls went to tanning salons whereas in 2011, that percentage dropped to 21 percent. For boys, the researchers reported that men over 18-years-old were more likely to tan than high school boys.

The researchers discovered that people who tanned indoors were more likely to lead healthy lifestyles when it came to diet and exercise. They reported eating more vegetables and fruits, and had higher levels of physical activity. However, these teenagers were also more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as taking steroids without a prescription, smoking, binge drinking and attempting to commit suicide. The researchers reasoned that teenagers who tan are more likely to care about their physical appearances, which is why they might go to extremes to look their best.

"Of course the emergence of risky behavior during adolescence is not a surprise," Guy said according to Philly. "But as this study shows that many risky behaviors are associated with each other, it highlights the importance of taking comprehensive approaches to indoor tanning prevention."

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The study was published in JAMA Dermatology.

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