10 January 2013

Reality TV viewers more likely to tan

College students who watch reality TV beauty shows are at least twice as likely as non-viewers to use tanning lamps or tan outdoors for hours at a time, a new study suggests.


College students who watch reality television beauty shows are at least twice as likely as non-viewers to use tanning lamps or tan outdoors for hours at a time, a new study suggests.

That finding doesn't prove watching shows such as America's Next Top Model and Toddlers & Tiaras drives people to the tanning booths, researchers said.

But it does suggest the shows aren't promoting the healthiest views on tanning, researchers say.

"TV shows might not realise the message they're (promoting) by having all of these attractive, tanned people," said study co-author Dr Joshua Fogel, a health policy researcher at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York system.

For both dermatologists and primary care doctors, he added, "it's worth asking their younger patients if they do use tanning lamps and outdoor tanning for a while, especially those that watch reality TV shows."

How the study was done

The new findings are based on surveys of 576 college students who were in their early 20s, on average. About 61% watched reality TV beauty shows.

Watching reality TV was tied to both indoor and outdoor tanning. Among people who watched the beauty shows, 13% had used tanning lamps in the last year and 43% had tanned outdoors for more than two hours at a time. In comparison, less than 4% of non-watchers used tanning lamps and 29% tanned outdoors.

Not surprisingly, women were ten times more likely to use tanning lamps than men, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

What the study found

The researchers didn't ask survey participants exactly what shows they watched, so they couldn't link specific programs to tanning.

"It's very clear that people who are watching (these shows) view this as something positive to do," Dr Fogel said.

It's possible the programs may directly encourage viewers to tan because they imply tanned people are cooler and more attractive, he said.

"The alternative possibility is the people who are tanned in the first place like watching these shows," Dr Fogel added, because the characters look more like them.

Another study  found that reality TV viewing was tied to better self esteem among adolescent girls. But girls who watched the shows also focused more on their appearance and were more willing to compromise their values for fame.

A representative from TLC - Discovery Communications, which airs Toddlers & Tiaras, said the network had no comment on Dr Fogel's findings.

Dermatologist Dr Elizabeth Tanzi, who wasn't involved in the new study, said it was consistent with what doctors in the field know about the media's influence.

"The images on TV of celebrities, they really do send powerful messages to the masses. And if they are going to the tanning salons and giving the impression that to be beautiful you have to be tan, and that's the ideal, that message is a very powerful one that's going to our young people," said Dr Tanzi, from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.

Dr Fogel also suggested a health promotion campaign where celebrities come on TV and talk about the dangers of tanning to counteract some of the negative messages coming from reality shows.

(Reuters Health, January 2013)

Read More:

Indoor tanning bans becoming common

More evidence links tanning beds to skin cancer


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Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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