Sunbed Operators Targeting Children

The Guardian reported today that children as young as 11 are using sunbeds in an attempt to emulate that `bronzed healthy look` worn by so many of today’s celebrities. The debate over the link between sunbed use and a raised risk of skin cancer has been raging for years in the UK, with all vested parties taking very strong positions. There are about 65,000 reported cases of skin cancer in the UK each year with about 2,000 proving fatal (BUPA).

Most health clubs and public sector leisure centres normally have very good systems in place when it comes to monitoring sunbed use by members. New users will be asked to complete a medical questionnaire, their usage is logged and weekly sessions will be limited to avoid skin damage. Esporta Health & Fitness Clubs,for example, recommends a limited of 60 x 6 minutes sessions over a year (that’s a total of 6 hours). However, private sunbed salons may not always be so rigorous as is clear from those centres that think its fine to take money off 11 year olds. The British Association of Dermatologists advise people not to use sunbeds at all and especially not anyone under 16.

So what should the position of health clubs and leisure centres be? Should they take the position that if people will insist on tanning, that they should provide a safe and controlled environment or should they throw out their sunbeds as it contradicts with the mission of improving the health of members? As I am now a Trustee for five leisure centres (with sunbeds) this becomes a live issue for me. My view is that over the course of the next few years, they should be phased out. Why? Some people will evade any system that is put in place (using different centres in the same week, for example), so ultimately, they will receive unsafe levels of UV radiation, which could result in terminal skin cancer and I don’t want to be partly responsible for depriving young children of their Mum.