Survey: 'Tanorexia' common among university students

Sep 02, 2008

A new study conducted at a large university finds more than 25 percent of those surveyed reported symptoms of tanning dependence, including symptoms similar to alcohol and drug-addicted individuals. Suggestively, the study also found those with a tanning dependence tend to be more likely to be thin and smoke cigarettes than others. The study by researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center is published in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, accounting for half of all human cancers with over a million new cases diagnosed yearly in the United States. It is reported that up to 90 percent of all skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet radiation.

For the study, Heckman and her colleagues set out to understand what proportion of college students report problems with tanning dependence and whether there are shared behaviors among those considered to be tanning dependent and those with other forms of addiction.

"Adolescents and young adults tend to put themselves at risk for later skin cancer by exposing themselves to high levels of ultraviolet radiation, so by understanding some possible reasons why, we hope to develop innovative interventions to help prevent these risky behaviors," explains Carolyn Heckman, Ph.D., an associate member at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Heckman and her colleagues recruited 400 students and other volunteers at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia during the spring semester of 2006. Participants took part in an online survey utilizing items adapted from questionnaires used to measure traditional substance abuse and dependence. The measures assess tolerance to tanning (the need to tan increasingly frequently), withdrawal from tanning (discomfort when not having tanned recently), and difficulty controlling the behavior despite awareness of its negative impact such as freckles, wrinkles, pre-cancerous lesions, etc.

The survey included questions such as "Do you think you need to spend more and more time in the sun to maintain your perfect tan?", "Do you continue tanning so your tan will not fade?" and "Does this [your belief that tanning can cause skin cancer] keep you from spending time in the sun or going to tanning beds?" Participants were queried about their level of intentional and incidental sun exposure, tanning booth use, and chemical sunless tanner use. The survey also asked about health-related behaviors such as body mass index, smoking, and exercise.

"The media and lay public may know tanning dependence as 'tanorexia,' alluding to similarities to both substance addictions and body image disorders like anorexia," Heckman says. "There is some evidence that UV tanning dependence may have biological underpinnings like other addictions such as the production of endorphins as in the 'runner's high.'"

Heckman adds: "We were surprised to find that 27 percent of those we surveyed were classified as tanning dependent. The finding that almost 40 percent of those surveyed had used tanning booths and that the mean age when tanning booths were first used was 17 is also alarming."

Interestingly, sun tanning appeared to be more closely related to tanning dependence than indoor tanning, though use of indoor tanning during warm weather also signaled tanning dependence.

Finally, the researchers say that those addicted to tanning were more likely to be thin and smoke cigarettes than others, suggesting meaningful avenues for further research into possible links among risky behaviors.

"Our ultimate goal is to find out more about the motivations for tanning so that we can develop interventions that would reduce tanning and hopefully skin cancer," Heckman concludes.

Source: Fox Chase Cancer Center

Explore further: Walking or cycling to work improves wellbeing, researchers find

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fracking brings boom, fears to rural US

Apr 22, 2012

Underneath the ground in southwestern Pennsylvania, bedrock is put under explosive pressure to fracture and spill out its lucrative cache of natural gas.

All-over tan is a myth, study finds

Aug 03, 2010

A consistent all-over tan may be impossible to achieve because some body areas are much more resistant to tanning than others, a study has found.

Report: Toxins found in whales bode ill for humans

Jun 24, 2010

(AP) -- Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth's oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger ...

The Medical Minute: Melanoma - The dark side of the sun

May 27, 2009

Now that the weather is nice, people will spend more time outside. Whether it’s doing yard work, playing golf or relaxing at the beach, we are a nation of sun lovers. Some people with light skin may even spend a few sessions ...

Recommended for you

Demographics impact family physicians' care of children

Sep 12, 2014

(HealthDay)—Demographic and geographic factors influence whether family physicians provide care for children, according to a study published in the September/October issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Estimate: 3 in 10 NFL retirees face cognitive woes (Update)

Sep 12, 2014

Nearly three in 10 former NFL players will develop at least moderate neurocognitive problems and qualify for payments under the proposed $765 million concussion settlement, according to data prepared for ex-players' lawyers ...

Physician describes impact of malpractice suit

Sep 12, 2014

(HealthDay)—A family doctor who was involved in a malpractice suit describes the impact on her practice of medicine in an article published online in the September/October issue of the Annals of Family Me ...

Report outlines 'must-have' sexual health services for men

Sep 12, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—Compared with women, American men have worse access to reproductive and sexual health care, research shows, a disparity fueled in part by the lack of standard clinical guidelines on the types and timing ...

New report finds a healthy well-being among Chinese children

Sep 12, 2014

A new study of children's well-being in Shanghai finds that first-graders are socially and emotionally healthy, with most performing average or above average academically. The study, by the New York University-East China ...

User comments : 0