A study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that most pre-adolescent children do not regularly use sunscreen, and worse, many suffer from sunburn at some point during their childhood.

Figures show that people having suffered a major sunburn incident in their childhood are at double the risk of developing a melanoma later in life, so protecting children from too much sun is something parents and carers should pay more attention to.

The study, which is entitled “Prospective Study of Sunburn and Sun Behavior Patterns During Adolescence,” looked at 360 children in the Massachusetts area and found that at least 50% of them experienced sun burn before their 11th birthday. They followed up with the participants three years later and found rates of sunburn still alarmingly high; and as children grew into their teens fewer reported using sunscreen, most thought they spent more time in the sun, than as children.

At the conclusion of the study, only 25% of children used sunscreen routinely and half the children who reported using sunscreen at the beginning of the study no longer used it three years later.

Stephen Dusza, lead author and a research epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

“At the same time, there was a significant reduction in
reported sunscreen use.”

Less is known about the activities of teenagers, but many, especially girls like to begin tanning – ideas are needed to promote sun protection at the beaches, after-school sites, as well as at sporting and other outdoor events.

Dusza plans to extend the study of the children into their late teens and gather more data about behaviors and fashions in regards to sun exposure.

Most participants in the study commented that they prefer the look of a tan, and thought people looked better with a tan. The number of children spending time in the sun to get a tan increased over the three year period. Dusza said :

“When you ask kids or teens about tanning, they say people look better with a tan, and tanning has a very positive association in kids of this age, so trying to get them to limit this behavior is a difficult message to get across.”

Other dermatologists not involved in the study concurred with the sentiment, highlighting the need to get the message across to children and young teens that over-exposure to ultra violet light can be harmful. Something could quite easily be done to promote public awareness, much in the way that smoking has been reduced and people are generally aware of the tobacco issues. Even though, of course, there will always be those risk takers who prefer to go their own way, educating people to the risks will slowly make tanning less desirable and less fashionable.

Dr. Jonette Keri, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine said :

“This is the age group we need to make an impact on, because it gets harder to make an impact as they get into their later teen and early adult years.”

The authors conclude :

“Along with educational efforts in physicians’ offices and schools, further studies are required to learn how to interweave enhanced sun-protection policies in settings such as beaches, after-school sites, and sporting events frequented by preadolescences and adolescents.”

Written by Rupert Shepherd