You might assume that by now, most humans are aware of the dangers of indoor tanning beds. However, many popular gyms include tanning beds as a perk of membership. A new study from the University of Connecticut (UConn) aimed to evaluate just how much indoor tanning has infiltrated the gym industry. This study was published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
A curious association between increased physical activity and increased melanoma risk was discovered by another study in 2016. In an article from UConn regarding the study, lead author Sherry Pagoto said, “exercise is typically associated with reduced risk for cancer, so it was surprising to see an association with increased risk for melanoma.” Pagoto and colleagues noted that around the same time that this study was published, many gyms added tanning beds, leading researchers to conduct this investigation.
The research team surveyed three of the six largest gym chains in the United States—Anytime Fitness, Gold’s Gym, and Planet Fitness—from June 2018 and February 2019. Of the 1,927 nationwide locations chosen to be surveyed, 1,727 responded to inquiries. According to the study, each gym was contacted by phone up to three times and asked if they offered tanning and how many beds were available for use.
Within the gyms surveyed, 78% featured tanning beds—a total of 4,660. Planet Fitness led the institutions having the largest number of tanning beds, followed by Anytime Fitness and then Gold’s Gym. Throughout the five regions of the countries sampled, the Midwest had the highest proportion of tanning beds in the gyms surveyed, with 87% of their locations featuring tanning beds.
Pagoto finds the results of their survey troubling because, as she states in the UConn article, “our sense had been that the tanning industry was on the decline.” She continues that, “because people associate gyms with health, gyms are essentially putting a ‘health halo’ on tanning beds. The public health community has been trying to communicate the messages that tanning beds are not safe or healthy, but gyms with tanning beds are obstructing that message."
According to the UConn article, more than 400,000 cases of skin cancer may be related to indoor tanning each year. The researchers state that exposure to ultraviolet rays is one of the leading causes of melanoma, and the exposure received from indoor tanning beds is “completely avoidable.”