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Tanning salons cluster in neighborhoods with more gay, bisexual men

A new study suggests this might be one reason for higher skin cancer rates among sexual minority men.

In many U.S. cities, tanning salons appear to cluster in neighborhoods where more gay and bisexual men live, according to a study that suggests this might be one reason for higher skin cancer rates among sexual minority men.

Researchers examined data on the number of households with partnered male couples across 4,091 census tracts in 10 U.S. major cities and the distribution of tanning salons across those cities. The odds of living near a tanning salon were twice as high in areas where at least 10 percent of households were male couples than in neighborhoods with fewer gay households.

“This matters because gay men already experience many health disparities and also have higher rates of skin cancer,” said Dr. Eleni Linos, senior author of the study and a professor of dermatology and epidemiology at Stanford University in California.

“Tanning beds are a known carcinogen, so having this carcinogen more available in these neighborhoods is a problem,” Linos said by email.

Skin cancer is becoming increasingly common in the U.S., and indoor tanning causes more than 450,000 basal and squamous cell cancers and more than 10,000 melanomas each year, Linos and colleagues write in JAMA Network Open.

Compared to heterosexual men, sexual minority men who identify as gay and bisexual have a six-fold higher prevalence of tanning salon use and more than double the skin cancer risk, researchers note.

For the current study, researchers looked at residents in 176 census tracts and identified a total of 196 tanning salons in 10 cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, San Diego, Dallas, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, and Washington, D.C.

There were 482,823 unmarried partnered households, of which 35,164, or 7.3 percent, were male couples.

The overall association between tanning salon locations and households with male partners didn’t change substantially even when researchers accounted for other factors that might impact the presence of indoor tanning salons like household income, percentage of white residents, and percentage of young women.

One limitation of the study is that there’s no comprehensive list of tanning salon locations, and it’s possible researchers lacked data on some indoor tanning businesses in places like gyms, apartment complexes, college campuses and hotels, the study team notes.

Another drawback is that census data only provides information on households headed by same-sex partners, but not on sexual orientation.

Even so, the results offer fresh evidence of the ways that some businesses catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community might contribute to health disparities, the study team notes.

“Public health professionals have been calling out industries like tobacco or the sugar industry that promote their products while widening health inequities,” Linos said.

“For example, the tobacco industry has been shown to market to LGBT communities, and tobacco retailers cluster in LGBT neighborhoods,” Linos added. “Our findings raise questions about whether the indoor tanning industry is trying to target LGBT communities.”

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