Survey: 'Tanorexia' common among university students

September 2, 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: Are redheads with blue eyes really going extinct?

Related Stories

Are redheads with blue eyes really going extinct?

February 7, 2018
For every 100 people in the world, only one or two will have red hair.

Tanning's allure tied to other addictions

March 31, 2017
(HealthDay)—People who seem to have a deep tan year-round—whether from the sun or indoor tanning—may be "addicted" to tanning. And new research suggests there's also a link between such tanning and other addictions.

Indoor tanning dependency common in young women, especially in those with depression

October 19, 2017
A survey of young, white women who have used indoor tanning at least once in the past year showed that more than one in five of them have signs of being addicted to the high dose of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from tanning ...

Scientists spot gene linked to tanning 'addiction'

January 16, 2015
(HealthDay)—Snowbirds who flock south in winter in search of the warmth of the sun, listen up:

Drug-target database lets researchers match old drugs to new uses

May 22, 2014
There are thousands of drugs that silence many thousands of cancer-causing genetic abnormalities. Some of these drugs are in use now, but many of these drugs are sitting on shelves or could be used beyond the disease for ...

Addicted to tanning? Research looks at correlation between OCD, body dysmorphia and tanning addiction

February 19, 2014
They keep tanning, even after turning a deep brown and experiencing some of the negative consequences. Skin cancer is among the most common, preventable types of the disease, yet many continue to tan to excess.

Recommended for you

Low-fat or low-carb? It's a draw, study finds

February 20, 2018
New evidence from a study at the Stanford University School of Medicine might dismay those who have chosen sides in the low-fat versus low-carb diet debate.

Tobacco kills, no matter how it's smoked: study

February 20, 2018
(HealthDay)—Smokers who think cigars or pipes are somehow safer than cigarettes may want to think again, new research indicates.

Just a few minutes of light intensity exercise linked to lower death risk in older men

February 19, 2018
Clocking up just a few minutes at a time of any level of physical activity, including of light intensity, is linked to a lower risk of death in older men, suggests research published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

Calcium and Vitamin D supplements are not associated with risk of heart attacks

February 16, 2018
New research from the University of Southampton has found no association between the use of calcium or vitamin D supplementation and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.

Women who clean at home or work face increased lung function decline

February 16, 2018
Women who work as cleaners or regularly use cleaning sprays or other cleaning products at home appear to experience a greater decline in lung function over time than women who do not clean, according to new research published ...

Study shows options to decrease risk of motor vehicle crashes for adolescent drivers

February 16, 2018
Adolescents who receive comprehensive and challenging on-road driving assessments prior to taking the license test might be protected from future motor vehicle crashes, according to a University of Alabama at Birmingham study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.