Indoor Tanning Most Common, Riskiest in Young Adults

Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn

May 12, 2012

May 12, 2012 — Indoor tanning is common in young adults, the age group most likely to develop melanoma as a result, according to a study published in the May 10 issue of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The combination of youth and tanning beds is an especially perilous one, according to the authors of the study. "[I]ndoor tanning before age 35 increases the risk for melanoma by 75%," they write. The practice is most common in white women between the ages of 18 and 25 years, according to the report.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels from indoor tanning devices "far exceed those from sunlight," the authors note. "The UVA (long wavelengths, 320–400 nm) output of tanning devices has been shown to be four times higher than the noon sunlight in Washington, DC, during the summer, and the UVB (midrange wavelengths, 290–320 nm) output was twice as high."

Reducing the number of adolescents and young adults who use some form of artificial light to tan is a goal of Healthy People 2020, a list of national goals for improving public health.

Scientists at the CDC and the National Cancer Institute analyzed the National Health Interview Survey, for which annual data are collected from a nationally representative sample of the US civilian, noninstitutionalized population. The study also incorporated data from the survey's cancer control supplement, which included questions about the use of indoor tanning.

Overall, the age-adjusted population of adults who reported indoor tanning in the past 12 months was 5.6%, according to the study. The rates were highest in those between the ages of 18 and 25 years and in white women aged between 18 and 21 years (31.8%), particularly in the Midwest (44.0%). Rates were also high in white women between the ages of 22 and 25 years (29.6%), especially those in the South (36.4%).

Of those white adults who reported indoor tanning in the previous 12 months, 57.7% of women and 40.0% of men said they had done so at least 10 times.

Certain factors were associated with a greater likelihood of indoor tanning use, including having a family history of skin cancer (9.0%), being white (8.1%), having had a sunburn in the previous year (7.9%), living in the Midwest (8.8%), having a level of education that included some college or technical school (7.5%), and having an annual income more than 200% of the federal poverty level (6.5%).

"Given the high prevalence of indoor tanning among young adult women, an increased focus should be placed on this population to prevent melanoma from increasing significantly as this generation ages," the authors write.

"Continued public health efforts are needed to increase awareness of the risk for skin cancer and how it can be prevented," they conclude.

They suggest that stricter regulation of indoor tanning devices, including mandating disclosure of the risks associated with them to those who purchase them and clients of tanning salons, might curtail use. Behavioral counseling by primary healthcare providers has also been demonstrated to be effective in both children and young adults. Appearance-focused behavioral interventions appear to be very effective in young women, according to the authors.

The data were based on self-report. Other limitations included a response rate of only 60.8%, that the scientists could not assess the length of exposure during each tanning session or cumulative exposure, and that the results are generalizable only to noninstitutionalized civilian adults.

Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2012;61:323-326. Full text

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