REUTERS - College students who watch reality television beauty shows are at least twice as likely as non-viewers to use tanning lamps or tan outdoors for hours at a time, according to a U.S. study.
The findings, which appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, doesn't prove that simply watching shows such as America's Next Top Model and Toddlers & Tiaras drives people to the tanning booths, researchers said.
But it does suggest the shows aren't promoting the healthiest views on tanning, which has been linked to a higher risk of skin cancer - especially among young people.
"TV shows might not realize the message they're (promoting) by having all of these attractive, tanned people," said study co-author Joshua Fogel, a health policy researcher at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York system.
For both skin specialists and primary care doctors, he added, "it's worth asking their younger patients if they do use tanning lamps and outdoor tanning ... especially those that watch reality TV shows."
The findings were based on surveys of 576 college students who were in their early 20s, on average. About 61 percent of them watched reality TV beauty shows.
Watching reality TV was tied to both indoor and outdoor tanning. Among people who watched the beauty shows, 13 percent had used tanning lamps in the last year and 43 percent had tanned outdoors for more than two hours at a time.
In comparison, fewer than four percent of non-watchers used tanning lamps and 29 percent tanned outdoors.
Not surprisingly, women were ten times more likely to use tanning lamps than men.
The researchers didn't ask survey participants exactly what shows they watched, so they couldn't tie specific programs to tanning.
"It's very clear that people who are watching (these shows) view this as something positive to do," Fogel told Reuters Health, adding that it's possible the programs may directly encourage viewers to tan because they imply tanned people are cooler and more attractive.
"The alternative possibility is the people who are tanned in the first place like watching these shows," he added, perhaps because the characters look more like them.
Another study, in The Journal of Pediatrics, found that reality TV viewing was tied to better self esteem among adolescent girls. But the girls who watched the shows also focused more on their appearance.
A representative from TLC-Discovery Communications, which airs Toddlers & Tiaras, said the network had no comment on Fogel's findings.
Dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, who wasn't involved in the study, said the results were consistent with what doctors in the field know about the media's influence.
"The images on TV of celebrities, they really do send powerful messages to the masses," said Tanzi, from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery.
"And if they are going to the tanning salons and giving the impression that to be beautiful you have to be tan, and that's the ideal, that message is a very powerful one that's going to our young people." SOURCE: bit.ly/XMT6Q5
Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies