Top US Colleges Support Dangerous Indoor Tanning

We send our children off to college hoping they receive a good education and make lifelong friends.  But many of our nation’s top schools also offer something far less beneficial: easy access to ultraviolet (UV) tanning beds, a proven cause of skin cancer.  Nearly half of the top 125 US colleges and universities listed in the US News and World Report rankings have tanning facilities on campus or in off-campus housing, according to a  study appearing in the January issue of JAMA Dermatology.

Not only are campuses offering tanning services, they’re making it very easy for students to become frequent tanners. About 14 percent of colleges allow students to pay for tanning sessions with campus debit cards, the same cards used to buy textbooks and meals. Twelve percent of colleges have tanning beds right on campus, and 42 percent have off-campus housing that offers tanning beds, usually for free with the apartment rental arrangement, according to the study led by Sherry Pagoto, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.   Colleges in the South (67.7 percent) and Midwest (61.5 percent) have the highest tanning bed availability in off-campus housing.

While many campuses have implemented tobacco-free policies to protect the their student body, many still endorse indoor tanning, which causes up to 419,000 cases of skin cancer each year, including 6,200 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease. 

 A Population at High Risk

College students hardly need a push to tan: this population already has the highest indoor tanning rates nationwide—especially young, white women ages 18-21.   According to 2010 CDC data, 31.8 percent of non-Hispanic, white women ages 18-21 reported indoor tanning that year, compared to 5 percent of the overall population. Colleges and universities need to be aware what a vulnerable population this is: people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent.

The study authors recommend that colleges and universities adopt tan-free policies, similar to the tobacco-free programs that have become commonplace. “Colleges could do a lot to prevent students from tanning,” says Dr. Pagoto. “In addition to prohibiting tanning on campus and discouraging it in off-campus housing [where the college administrators do not have direct control], campus-wide skin cancer prevention programs could have an enormous impact in a population that has some of the highest rates of [high-] risk behavior.”

Published on March 6, 2015