Teens who use indoor tanning may also try to control their weight through unhealthy methods, such as taking diet pills and vomiting, researchers say.
This link is stronger in boys than in girls, according to the study, published in the Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Paediatrics. "Poor body image is associated with both indoor tanning behaviour and eating disorder behaviours," David Schwebel, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, wrote in an accompanying editorial.
The findings show that in addition to increasing the risk of deadly melanoma skin cancer, indoor tanning might help identify teens at increased risk for eating disorders, said researchers Stephen Amrock and Dr Michael Weitzman of the New York University School of Medicine.
Doctors should screen teens for indoor tanning use, they said. However, the research doesn't prove that one of these behaviours leads to the other.
Risks of indoor tanning
The investigators analysed survey data from nearly 27 000 high school students across the United States. They found that 23% of girls and 6.5% of boys had used indoor tanning within the past year. Indoor tanning was most common among older students – one-third of females and 11% of males aged 18 or older.
Teens who used indoor tanning were more likely than others to say that they'd used unhealthy weight-control methods within the past month. These methods included fasting for more than 24 hours; taking weight-loss pills, powders or liquids; taking laxatives; or intentional vomiting.
Compared with girls who didn't use indoor tanning, girls who tanned indoors were 20% more likely to fast, 40% more likely to take laxatives or to vomit after eating, and more than twice as likely to take weight-loss products, the study found.
Read: One in 10 Teens Uses Sunless Tanning Products
Banning teens from tanning salons
And compared with boys who didn't tan indoors, boys who used indoor tanning were more than twice as likely to fast, four times more likely to use weight-loss products, and seven times more likely to take laxatives or to vomit, the researchers said.
While having parents and doctors talk to teens about the risks of indoor tanning can be helpful, it's vital that more communities and states ban teens from tanning salons, Schwebel said.
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Many young people at risk of skin cancer
Image: Woman in a tanning bed from Shutterstock