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Sunbed use in children aged 11-17 in England: face to face quota sampling surveys in the National Prevalence Study and Six Cities Study

BMJ 2010; 340 doi: (Published 18 March 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;340:c877
  1. Catherine S Thomson, head of statistical information1,
  2. Sarah Woolnough, head of policy1,
  3. Matthew Wickenden, statistical information officer1,
  4. Sara Hiom, director of health information1,
  5. Chris J Twelves, professor of clinical cancer pharmacology and oncology2
  1. 1Cancer Research UK, London WC2A 3PX
  2. 2Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, St James’s Institute of Oncology, Leeds LS9 7TF
  1. Correspondence to: C S Thomson catherine.thomson{at}
  • Accepted 3 January 2010


Objectives To quantify the use of sunbeds in young people across England, identify geographical variation, and explore patterns of use, including supervision.

Design Two random location sampling surveys.

Setting National Prevalence Study in England; Six Cities Study in Liverpool, Stoke/Stafford, Sunderland, Bath/Gloucester, Oxford/Cambridge, and Southampton.

Participants 3101 children aged 11-17 in the National Prevalence study and 6209 in the Six Cities study.

Results In the National Prevalence Study 6.0% (95% confidence interval 5.1% to 6.8%) of those aged 11-17 had used a sunbed. Use was higher in girls than in boys (8.6% (7.2% to 10.0%) v 3.5% (2.6% to 4.4%), respectively), in those aged 15-17 compared with those aged 11-14 (11.2% (9.5% to 12.9%) v 1.8% (1.2% to 2.4%), respectively), and in those from lower rather than higher social grades (7.6% (5.7% to 9.5%) v 5.4% (4.5% to 6.3%), respectively). Sunbed use was higher in the “north” (11.0%, 8.9% to 13.0%) than in the “midlands” (4.2%, 2.5% to 5.8%) and the “south” (4.2%, 3.3% to 5.2%). In the Six Cities Study, sunbed use was highest in Liverpool and Sunderland (20.0% (17.5% to 22.4%) and 18.0% (15.6% to 20.3%), respectively), with rates especially high in girls, those aged 15-17, or from lower social grades. Mean age of first use was 14, and 38.4% (34.7% to 42.1%) of children used a sunbed at least once a week. Nearly a quarter (23.0%, 19.8% to 26.1%) of children had used a sunbed at home (including home of friends/relatives), and 24.7% (21.0% to 28.4%) said they had used sunbeds unsupervised in a tanning/beauty salon or gym/leisure centre.

Conclusions Sunbed use by children is widespread in England, is often inadequately supervised, and is a health risk. National legislation is needed to control sunbed outlets.


  • We thank Ana Gomez and Clare Flach for analytical support; Caroline Cerny and Katy Scammell for helping to organise, coordinate, and commission the surveys; and Ed Yong and Lucy Boyd for assistance with the references.

  • Contributors: CST was involved in the analysis, design, and writing of the study and is guarantor. SW and SH were involved in the design and writing of the study. MW was involved in the analysis of the results. CJT was involved in the writing up of the paper. The authors had full access to the study and accept responsibility for the accuracy of the analyses.

  • Funding: Cancer Research UK was commissioned by the National Cancer Action Team, supported by the Department of Health to undertake this research. The Department of Health funded the pilot studies; the National Cancer Action Team funded the full studies.

  • Competing interests: None declared.

  • Ethical approval: Not required.

  • Data sharing: No additional data available.

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