Background: Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanning is common and consequential, increasing the risk for cancers including melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. At-risk groups include adolescents and young adults, who often report beliefs about benefits of tanning. Adolescent and young adults are also among the most ubiquitous social media users. As previous studies support that content about tanning is common on social media, this may be a way that young women are exposed to influential content promoting tanning, including health misinformation. Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate health misinformation promoted by indoor tanning businesses via social media and to understand young women’s perceptions of this misinformation. Methods: This mixed methods study included (1) retrospective observational content analysis of indoor tanning salons’ content on Facebook over 1 year and (2) qualitative interviews with a purposeful national sample of 46 White non-Hispanic women, age 16 to 23 years, who had recently tanned indoors. We assessed experiences with tanning businesses’ posted content on social media through interviews. We used the constant comparative approach for qualitative analyses. Results: Content analysis findings included data from indoor tanning businesses (n=147) across 50 states, yielding 4956 total posts. Among 9 health misinformation topics identified, the most common was the promotion of UV tanning as a safe way to get Vitamin D (n=73, 1.5%). An example post was “Stop by Body and Sol to get your daily dose of Vitamin D.” Another misinformation topic was promoting tanning for health benefits (n=31, 0.62%), an example post was “the flu is not a season, it’s an inability to adapt due to decreased sun exposure…” A total of 46 participants completed interviews (age: mean 20 years, SD 2). Almost all participants (45/46, 98%) used Facebook, and 43.5% (20/46) followed an indoor tanning business on social media. Approximately half of participants reported seeing social media posts from tanning salons about Vitamin D, an example of a participant comment was “I have [seen that] a few times...” Among the participants, approximately half believed it was safe to get Vitamin D from indoor UV tanning; a participant stated: “I think it is a valid benefit to UV tanning.” Conclusions: Despite the low frequency (range 0.5%-1.5%) of social media posts promoting health misinformation, participants commonly reported viewing these posts, and their perceptions aligned with health misinformation. Health education campaigns, possibly using social media to target at-risk populations, may be an innovative approach for tanning prevention messages.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to thank contributors Nikita Midamba and Adrienne Ton. This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute (grant R03 CA201953-01); the funders had no involvement in study processes or writing.
©Megan Andreas Moreno, Marina C Jenkins, DeAnn Lazovich.
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