January 23rd, 2012
12:01 AM ET
Positive sun behaviors may decrease and tan-seeking behaviors increase as a child goes through adolescence, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers studied 360 fifth-graders in 2004 and followed up with them in 2007. Approximate ages were 10 to 13.
"I'm sure the parents had more say in [children's] sun behaviors when they were ten years old- applying sunscreen and keeping them out of the sun more," said Dr. Stephen Dusza, lead author and research epidemiologist from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
"But as they are growing older and developing some more independence, they're making their own health decisions and sometimes those aren't the wisest health decisions," he said.
The American Academy of Dermatology says rates of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, have been rising for at least 30 years. It is now the most common form of cancer for young adults aged 25 to 29 and is the second most common form of cancer among adolescents and adults aged 15 to 29.
It attributes melanoma to ultraviolet radiation exposure in many cases.
The adolescents studied lived in Framingham, Massachusetts. They were mostly white but other populations included non-white Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American.
The students completed surveys as fifth-graders about their sun exposure and protection practices. The questionnaires contained items with regard to their outdoor exposure, sunscreen use, past sunburns and attitude toward tans. The students completed the same surveys as eighth-graders.
Researchers found that at least half of the children experienced sunburns during the previous summer of each survey. As 5th graders, 50% of the students reported using sunscreen regularly. Only 25% reported the same regular use as eighth-graders. The study noted, fair or very fair skinned individuals and those who did tan, were more likely to report a sunburn.
In addition, the number of respondents who acknowledged they liked tans increased. Girls and boys both said they did, and reported they spent more time in the sun in order to get a tan.
"Females were four times more likely to report spending time in the sun at the older age group as compared to when they were younger," Dusza said.
"This age really is an inflection point for their health behaviors," he said. "A lot of research has shown that health behaviors in the peri-adolescence and adolescence age range are the formation for their health behaviors later in life, so this is a very important time to get these positive messages to children."
"We have to think about how we teach sun avoidance," Dusza noted. "A lot of the message that's out there is focused primarily on sunscreen, but such things as the amount of time spent in the sun and shade-seeking behaviors should also be part of the message."
Dr. Ann Haas agrees. She's a dermatologist and the former chair of the American Academy of Dermatology's Youth Education Committee.
"It's not just wear sunscreen," Haas said. "It's the whole package."
She recommends being aware that sometimes you might be out in the sun longer than you anticipate and seeking shade when possible.
"Even though you're 10, 11 or 12, that doesn't mean that you can't have problems because of having too much sun exposure," Haas noted.
She added that the study shows is that it looks like there is a window of time that the message is not being clearly received.
"It's important to protect your skin from the sun - that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the sun but that means that you have to be smart about your activities when you're out in the sun," she said.
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