New research shows that young women who use tanning beds are generally aware of -- but choose to ignore -- the health risks.
Two UNC Chapel Hill researchers surveyed sorority women to find out what motivates young people to use tanning beds and how to develop messages that could discourage their uses.
The study, published in JAMA Dermatology, was co-authored by Seth Noar, of the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Dr. Nancy Thomas, of the UNC School of Medicine.
They found that most women start using tanning beds in their teens, often accompanied by a parent or friend.
As a next step, the researchers plan to work with UNC graduate students to develop messages about the dangers of tanning beds that target young audiences.
Changing behavior will require "very strategic" messages that don't focus solely on the health risks, Noar said. The messages might suggest alternatives, such as self-tanning products that do not rely on UV rays, he said.
Of the women surveyed, 45 percent said they had used tanning beds, 30 percent in the past year. Nationally, more than 28 million people use tanning beds each year, and the population most at risk from developing skin cancer as a result are users younger than 35.
Since the introduction of tanning beds in the late 1970s, indoor tanning has grown to a $2.6 billion a year industry. The number of tanning parlors in most U.S. cities is greater than the number of Starbucks or McDonalds.
The growing awareness of the dangers has led to major efforts to curtail tanning bed use, especially among teens. Five states ban the use of tanning beds for minors under 18, and 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed regulations limiting minors’ access to indoor tanning.
In North Carolina, a tanning bed bill targeting minors was introduced in 2012 but did not reach a final vote.
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