Canadian Magazines Miss Mark on Tanning, Skin Cancer: Study

Canadian magazines are sending women mixed messages about skin cancer and tanning, according to a University of Guelph professor’s research.

The study found that magazines promote a tanned look and give women limited information on risk factors and early detection for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is a common type of cancer among Canadians, with about 6,500 new cases of melanoma and 76,100 cases of non-melanoma diagnosed each year. Related health-care costs are projected to reach $922 million a year by 2031.

“Messages surrounding skin cancer in Canadian women’s magazines are conflicting, and there are important gaps,” said Prof. Jennifer McWhirter, Department of Population Medicine. She conducted the study for her doctoral dissertation in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo.

“This is problematic because the mass media is an important source of health information for people.”

The study looked at coverage of skin cancer and tanning in six popular women’s magazines from 2000 to 2012: Canadian Living, Chatelaine, Homemakers, FASHION, ELLE Canada and Flare. The authors examined 154 articles and accompanying images for information about prevention, risk factors and early detection.

Although seven out of 10 articles promoted sunscreen use, few encouraged other ways to prevent skin cancer, such as wearing protective clothing and a hat, seeking shade, and avoiding the sun and indoor tanning. Only a small minority of articles discouraged indoor tanning.

Of the images, more than half promoted the tanned look as attractive.

“The blonde, bronzed young woman in a bikini is pretty intense competition for the accompanying public health message to protect against UV exposure,” said McWhirter.

“We were surprised and concerned there was so little information in the Canadian magazines on the dangers of tanning beds.”

The World Health Organization classifies UV exposure from tanning beds as carcinogenic.

Despite the risks, it is estimated that more than one-quarter of Canadian young women use indoor tanning beds.

“There are more tanning salons in Canada than there are Tim Hortons or McDonald’s restaurants,” said McWhirter.

Few articles included information about early detection of skin cancer.

The study was published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.