In a world fixated on physical beauty, there are many dangerous practices that people may use in an effort to achieve their vision of perfection. A recent study conducted on American high school students has found a link between two of these practices: indoor tanning and unhealthy weight-loss methods.

According to the study, teenage girls who practiced indoor tanning were nearly 20 percent more likely to fast, 40 percent more likely to take laxatives or vomit after eating, and more than twice as likely to take weight-loss products. The numbers were even higher in teenage boys who used indoor tanning. They were more than twice as likely to go without food, seven times more likely to take laxatives or to vomit, and four times more likely to use weight-loss products, than their non-tanning counterparts. Experts blame poor body image as the cause for this trend.

The study was conducted on nearly 27,000 high school students across the United States. It was carried out by researchers from New York University School of Medicine, and was published in the April issue of the Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Investigators asked students if they had used indoor tanning or practiced unhealthy dieting methods recently. Results showed that those students who had used an indoor tanning salon were significantly more likely to have also used an unhealthy diet method. The tie to indoor tanning and extreme weight maintenance was even stronger in teenage boys than it was in teenage girls. “Poor body image is associated with both indoor tanning behavior and eating disorder behavior,” David Schwebel, of the University Of Alabama, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

Results showed that 23 percent of girls and 6.5 percent of boys had used indoor tanning within the past year. This was most common amongst the older students; 33 percent of females and 11 percent of males aged 18 or older admitted to the beauty practice. Further questioning revealed that teens that used indoor tanning were more likely than those who had not to say that they’d practiced unhealthy weight-control methods within the past month. These methods included; fasting for more than 24 hours, taking weight-loss supplements, taking laxatives, or intentionally vomiting. In comparison to teenagers who didn’t use indoor tanning, those who did were more likely to abstain from food for more than 24 hours, abuse diet supplement and laxatives, and vomit after eating.

Although there seems to be a link between indoor tanning and unhealthy dieting in teenagers, the research does not prove that one behavior leads to another. The results from the study are important in helping to reduce both these practices in teens. According to the study’s authors, Stephen Amrock and Michael Weitzman, using a tanning bed once in one’s youth nearly doubles your chances of developing melanoma, and unhealthy dieting habits can lead to life threatening eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The researchers hope thir study can be used by doctors to not only address the major skin cancer risk in teens who use a tanning bed, but also to identify teens at risk for unhealthy weight control behavior. “Greater attention to these issues by pediatricians may help reduce the number of adolescents risking potentially deadly consequences, “Amrock and Weitzman wrote in a press release.

Source: Amrcok S, Weitzman M. Adolescent Indoor Tanning Use and Unhealthy Weight Control Behaviors. Journal of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics. 2014