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IN THE United States, the high incidence of skin cancer—including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma—has been attributed primarily to sun exposure.1,2 To reduce exposures to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the American Cancer Society, and other organizations have recommended sun-protection practices such as wearing protective clothing, avoiding sun exposure during the midday hours (when the sun's rays are the strongest), and using sunscreen.3,4 Such practices are especially important for infants and children because sun exposure during the early years of life appears to increase the risk for melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.1 To characterize sun-protection practices among children, AAD conducted a survey of parents with children aged ≤12 years during June-July 1997. This report summarizes the results of the survey, which indicate that three fourths of adults had their children use one or more measures to reduce exposure to UV rays.
Random-digit-dialing was used to compile a sample of households with children aged ≤12 years. Of 1872 households screened, 587 included a child aged ≤12 years. Of these households, 84 refused to participate in the survey, resulting in a sample size of 503 households. One adult per household was interviewed. Demographic characteristics were ascertained, and respondents were asked how often (always, usually, sometimes, or never) they had their child use specific measures to protect themselves from the sun. For households with more than one child aged ≤12 years, one child was randomly selected for reporting in the survey. For the analyses, "always" and "usually" were coded as positive responses and "sometimes" and "never" as negative responses. The statistical differences between the sun-protection behaviors and demographic variables were determined using Chi-square analyses.
Overall, 363 (74%) of 491 adults reported using one or more sun-protection behaviors for their children. The sun-protection behavior most frequently reported was using a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor of ≥15 (257 [53%] of 486), followed by seeking shade (150 [30%] of 499), wearing hats (133 [27%] of 502), and wearing shirts (42 [8%] of 501). Sun-protection behaviors overall were more frequently reported for fair-skinned children and for children of adults who were white than for darker-skinned children and for children of adults who were black. Sunscreen use in particular was more frequently reported for those same subgroups of children and for children with a family history of skin cancer. Women were more likely than men to report sunscreen use for their children. Although sunscreen use did not significantly change with the age of the child, the proportion of children using one or more sun-protection behaviors decreased with age.
JK Robinson, MD, DS Rigel, MD, RA Amonette, MD, American Academy of Dermatology, Schaumburg, Illinois. Cancer Surveillance Br, Div of Cancer Prevention and Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC.
The findings in this report indicate that a high proportion of parents, particularly parents of children at increased risk for skin cancer (e.g., those who are white, have fair skin, and who have a family history of skin cancer), use sun-protection measures for their children. The most frequently reported sun-protection behavior was sunscreen use. Other means of protection may be more difficult to promote among children, who may not want to wear hats or may be too hot to wear long sleeves.
The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations. First, many households refused to be screened or had no adult respondent available; therefore, the results may not be representative of all U.S. children. Second, respondents' reporting of sun-protection behaviors may have been influenced by the desire to report in what was perceived to be a socially acceptable manner.
Several organizations, including AAD, the Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Food and Drug Administration, and CDC, have initiated educational efforts about sun protection. A recent study found an increased awareness among adults that sun exposure is dangerous, a decline in the belief that having a tan is healthy, and an increase in the reported use of sunscreen. However, study results also suggested an increase in adult UV ray exposure, as measured by increased reports of sunburning and regular use of tanning booths.5 Targeting health-education messages to children, young adults, and parents may result in further attitudinal and behavioral change in those who engage in high-risk behaviors. The desire to influence a child's behavior may further motivate adults to protect themselves while in the sun and to avoid sunburning. Sun-protection behaviors among children also may be enhanced by including educational components in school health curricula and by environmental measures, such as providing shade structures and scheduling outdoor activities before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
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