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Tanning bed use by teens tied to sex, alcohol, and unsafe dietary practices

FDA warns that tanning beds carry other risk factors.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Editorial Opinion:

In yet another case of too much taxpayer money being spent on really stupid studies, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that the use of indoor tanning beds by high school students has been positively tied to alcohol consumption, sexual activity, and the use of unsafe weight control practices.

Prior attempts by the FDA to limit tanning by teens focused on the very real risks of developing skin cancers such as melanoma. The latest attempt seems designed to scare parents into banning tanning by claiming it is apparently a gateway to binge drinking, sexual activity, and eating disorders.

An article in Reuters features a quote by Gery Guy, Jr., the lead author of the CDC study, emphasizing the "prevalence of indoor tanning and its relation to other risky behaviors." Not mentioned in the piece is the fact that consumption of alcohol and sexual activity are both quite common among American teens.

Eating disorders are indicative of an unhealthy fixation and fear of body image, even to the point that those that are starving themselves continue to think of themselves as "fat'' all the way to point where they die.

Our culture pushes hard at young people to look good by being thin and looking tan and healthy. It also pushes them to be sexually desirable, even if it means using unsafe methods to keep their weight down.

A healthy body image is difficult to maintain when the examples used by our media and and advertising are those of unnaturally (and in many cases, unhealthily) thin models. And in many more cases, technologies like photoshop are used to make these models of desirability even thinner than they really are.

Another thing the Reuters article mentions is that the World Health Organization, the FDA, and the American Medical Association are among the myriad of public health organizations that have come out in opposition to tanning beds in recent years. Really? Only in recent years? The health risks (cancer) associated with tanning beds have been known for DECADES.

Those of us old enough to have raised our kids to adulthood recognize that this study at best tries to further demonize something that was already pretty bad by adding the prurient interests our culture has in sex and alcohol.

The reality is that young people drank alcohol and had sex even before tanning beds became popular. And they will continue to do so even if they are banned. What parents need to do is become more involved in the lives of their teens, and help them learn to make safe and sound decisions about their health.