Health & Medical Children & Kid Health

Few Kids Have Good Sun Safety Habits

´╗┐Few Kids Have Good Sun Safety Habits

Few Kids Have Good Sun Safety Habits

May 25, 2001 -- Rock concerts, pool parties, food fests, just hanging out -- kids across the country are glad it's summer. But are they protecting themselves from the sun's rays? Have they tuned into the message that sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer? It doesn't seem so, says a new study.

The study -- the largest of its kind so far -- looked at sun protection and other health behaviors of nearly 25,000 students.

"Only about 20% of kids use sun protection all the time," says author Alan Geller, RN, MPH, an associate professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine. His study appears in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Malignant melanoma -- one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer -- is too often the result of those serious sunburns of childhood and adolescence, research shows. Geller's data means that "a significant proportion of U.S. children and adolescents will be at high risk for those cancers," he tells WebMD.

In their study, Geller and colleagues analyzed annual health surveys given to Connecticut school children from 1988 to 1995 -- 24,645 boys and girls between ages 9 and 18. On the surveys, only one question pertained to sun protection, "which was kind of good," says Geller. "It was very clear they were not giving us the socially desirable answer."

The question: "Do you protect your skin with a sunscreen or covering so you won't get a sunburn?"

While 20% indicated they always protected themselves, 56% reported sometimes using sunscreen, and 20% said they had no need for it. Of those who never used sunscreen, 69% were male and 31% were female.

Girls were more likely than boys to use sunscreen, especially when they were young. As they got older, however, those numbers dwindled. Boys at every age were less likely than girls to use sunscreen.

And those who didn't use sun protection -- boys or girls -- tended to take other risks, like smoking, not using seat belts, not wearing safety helmets when they rode bicycles, Geller tells WebMD. "This seems to be a common thread, that these are kids who take a lot of risks," he says.

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