U.S. teenagers who use indoor tanning devices are more likely to take part in other risky behaviors, according to a new government study.
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 threat.
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 them.
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.
Among girls, illegal drug use and having had sex with four or more partners were also more likely among those who used indoor tanning.
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.