Most US gyms are fueling cancer with tanning beds, study warns

Gyms market themselves as the holy grail of health, a place to go to turn your life around for the better.

But more than half of US gyms also promote an addictive habit that could give you cancer: tanning beds.

Scientists from the University of Connecticut have found that people who tan at the gym are more likely to do so than people who tan elsewhere.

They even form an addiction to it, going so far as to spend money meant for bills on tanning sessions. 

‘By coupling exercise with tanning beds, gyms are sending a message than tanning is part of a healthy lifestyle,’ lead author Dr Sherry Pagoto, a professor of allied health sciences at the University of Connecticut, told Daily Mail Online.

‘But it’s not, you’re just increasing your risk of cancer.’ 

Scientists from the University of Connecticut say that people who tan at the gym are 67 percent more likely than people who tan elsewhere to do so frequently 

For the study, the team looked at more than 600 people who reported using a tanning bed at least once in their life.

Of that group, 24 percent said that they used tanning beds at the gym at least once.

Researchers found that people who reported tanning at the gym did so 67 percent more often than people who tanned elsewhere.

‘A lot of them meet the criteria for “tanning dependence” or “tanning addiction” where it looks a lot like addictive behavior,’ said Dr Pagoto.

This means they are likely to agree with statements such as ‘My urges to indoor tan keep getting stronger if I don’t indoor tan,’ and ‘At times, I have used money intended for bills to pay for my tanning sessions.’

The team also saw that those who did more frequent exercise – defined by how many times participants exercised in the last week – was associated with greater tanning.

‘In different parts, of the country we’ve seen tanning beds in laundromats, hair salons, even bait shops,’ Dr Pagoto said.

‘But the gym is where you go to get healthy and, when you offer tanning beds, it sends a confusing message where people think it’s part of a healthy lifestyle.

‘But in fact, it’s not a good service to provide to people who are trying to maintain a physically active lifestyle.’ 

The literature is clear that indoor tanning exposes you to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, which increases your risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

UV radiation does not only cause premature skin aging, such as wrinkles and brown spots, but it can actually change DNA in cells – what scientists believe causes skin cancer. 

Using a tanning bed – even once – before age 35 increases the risk of skin cancer by as much as 75 percent, according to the Melanoma Alliance.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 91,000 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2018, and approximately 9,000 will die from it.

‘Indoor tanning is essentially a carcinogen, like tobacco, which you don’t want around you when you are working out,’ Dr Pagoto.

The study builds upon previous research that has found people who tan become addicted to doing it.

A 2013 study, led by the Yale School of Medicine, found that melanoma survivors often continue to use indoor tanning beds against the warnings of their doctors.

Recently, some states have introduced legislation to try reduce the number of minors currently using tanning beds.

In May of this year, the New York state senate introduced a bill that would ban anyone under age 18 from using the beds. Currently, 17-year-olds are allowed to use them if a parent or guardian provides written consent. 

Last month, the General Assembly of Rhode Island approved legislation that bans minors from using tanning beds.