Mother/Daughter Tanning and the Dual Nature of Family History

We’ve dedicated a number of posts over the past year on the policy and health pitfalls of indoor tanning – from the potential benefits of the “tanning tax” (post) to surprisingly high rates of tanning by some youth (post).  Now comes a fascinating, if not perfectly surprising, little analysis on the influence parents can have as indoor tanning enablers.

The small study – reported in the New York Times (story) and printed as a research letter in the Archives of Dermatology (letter – subscription required for full text) – included just over 200 female college students who had at any time in their lives tanned indoors.  Results showed that 40 percent of these students had had their very first tanning experience with their mothers, and that this mother/daughter group of students started tanning at earlier ages and were much more likely to be heavy tanners in college than those who’d first tanned with friends or gone on their own.

For an activity that has well demonstrated health risks, it’s surprising that such a high percentage of students were actively introduced to tanning by a parent.  Using an extreme example, it’s hard to imagine such a high percentage being introduced to smoking in the same way.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study is how well it demonstrates the dual way that family history may influence future risk of disease.  Genes can certainly play a role but so to can the lifestyle choices that also permeate families – whether it’s the food served in the kitchen or the activities done for leisure.  And with over half of all cancer and up to 75 percent of heart disease and diabetes preventable with things we can all do, it’s important to realize that the choices made by families could have just as much, if not more, influence on health than the genes they carry.

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