Teens and young adults know the health risks of using tanning beds, but some go tanning anyway. A new study suggests why — they see health risks everywhere around them, so tanning beds don't stand out as a particular danger.
Researchers surveyed 600 university students and found that, of those who said they'd ever used a tanning bed, 59 percent said they agreed with the statement, “Tanning bed use can make me ill, but everything causes cancer these days."
And 52 percent agreed with the statement, "Tanning bed use is no more risky than lots of other things that people do."
"The type of thinking that there is danger all around you, and hence unavoidable, is a common way of justifying risky behaviors," said study researcher Smita Banerjee, a behavioral scientist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "Of course, the flaw to such thinking is the assumption that all dangers pose the same level of threat or harm," Banerjee said.
By contrast, far fewer of the young adults surveyed said they agreed with statements expressing skepticism about the medical evidence linking tanning bed use and disease, or with beliefs that tanning bed use is worthwhile despite its hazards.
Just 10 percent said they agreed with the statement, "Tanning bed use cannot be all that bad for you because many people who use tanning beds live long lives," and 12 percent said they agreed that "It is more important for me to get that tanned look at this age than worry about skin cancer."
Knowing what drives an average young person to rationalize his or her risky behaviors "will allow health-care professionals to create awareness messages that connect better and provide a stronger mitigating effect," Banerjee said.
For example, doctors could respond to a patient who thinks that "everything" causes cancer by explaining how to prioritize their health risks. Such rationalizations stem from a very basic human underpinning, and are based on people's inability to see differences between the risks and dangers around them, she said.
The researchers noted their study was limited in that it was relatively small, and may not apply to all groups of young people.
The findings were published on June 18 in the journal Archives of Dermatology.
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