Tan Teens May Be Hiding an Eating Disorder

eating disorders and tanningTeens that use indoor tanning methods, other than spray on tan, are more likely to display disordered eating patterns. A new study has found that young people, who use sun beds are more likely to take diet pills, vomit to lose weight or use other eating disorder like methods for weight control.

The study, which was conducted by the Journal of Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics shows that the correlation between tanning beds and eating disorders is present in both men and women. In fact, the association is even stronger in men.


Using national data for the USA, the researchers looked at 27,000 high school aged teens. 23% of females and 6.5% of males said they participated in indoor tanning. These numbers increased after the age of 18. Of the teens that had left high school, 33% of females and 11% of males participated in tanning.

Females that used indoor tanning were 20% more likely to fast and 40% more likely to vomit in an attempt to lose weight or take laxatives. They were also two times as likely to use weight loss supplements.

The men who used indoor tanning were twice as likely to fast, four times as likely to use pills or other weight loss drugs and seven times as likely to throw up or use laxatives to shed the pounds.

Both indoor tanning and dangerous eating habits have been linked to negative body image and the two are actually very similar behaviours from a mental illness perspective. Eating disorders take a physical toll by depriving the body of proper nutrients. Tanning beds increase the users risk of certain cancers and can prematurely age the skin. In both cases, users are sacrificing health for a perceived increase in beauty.

This latest study does not prove a definite link between eating disorders and tanning, but it does show that there is some sort of connection. More importantly, the research shows that some form of screening could help detect teens at a  greater risk of developing eating disorder.

This could aid treatment and provide better outcomes for many who will develop EDs in the future. 

To learn more about eating disorders, check out Life Works Knowledge Centre.

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