November 9th, 2011
05:57 PM ET
The way to convince teens and young adults to wear sunscreen, use sun protection and avoid tanning beds is by appealing to their vanity.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft this week, recommending counseling for people between the ages 10 and 24 years who have fair skin about minimizing their ultraviolet radiation exposure. The group routinely makes recommendations about what sort of preventive services should be used in medical care.
The most effective method for reaching this demographic was using booklets, photographs and videos showing how the sun ages and damages skin. This approach was especially convincing for female teens, who were most likely to use indoor tanning beds.
“Appearance-focused messages were successful at reducing intent to pursue this behavior,” according to the report released by the task force.
“We’ll take what we can get,” said Dr. Virginia Moyer, the panel chair of the task force. “From the standpoint of accomplishing the goal of decreasing UV exposure, that goal was best accomplished using appearance-based counseling.”
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Most of these cases are not associated with deaths, but a type of skin cancer called melanoma occurs in nearly 70,000 people and kills 8,800 Americans. Skin cancer is more common among whites.
After reviewing the research, the task force set a “B” rating for this counseling method for people younger than 24 years of age. This means that there is “high certainty that the net benefit is moderate or there is moderate certainty that the net benefit is moderate to substantial.”
The task force has issued some controversial recommendations in the past. The most recent recommendation raised doubts about the effectiveness of prostate specific antigen tests, which are used to detect prostate cancer. In 2009, the task force issued a controversial recommendation regarding breast cancer.
The group’s latest guidance on skin cancer counseling is unlikely to raise any uproar.
There is less clarity whether such counseling works in adults older than age 24 years, because there weren’t many studies or research done on adults, Moyer said. Most of the scientific literature focused on teens and young adults, because they were more likely to use tanning beds.
“It doesn’t mean the minute you turn 25, you can get into the tanning bed,” she said. “It’s not good for older people either.”
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