Intervention can protect teens from skin
NEW YORK – A collaborative approach involving parents, sports coaches, teachers, health professionals and youngsters may motivate teens to better protect themselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays, the results of a new study suggest.
The findings are integral to public health efforts to reduce the incidence of skin cancer, in light of previous research showing that children are less likely to use sunscreen or other sun-protective measures as they reach high-school age and young adulthood.
To change teenager’s sun protection habits, we need to “create an environment around the teen where people are all using and talking about skin protection,” study author Dr. Ardis L. Olson, of Dartmouth Medical School, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, told Reuters Health.
Increased sun exposure raise the risk of melanoma, the most deadly and increasingly common form of skin cancer. But stressing this point may not be very effective among image-conscious teenagers, according to Olson.
“We won’t get anywhere talking about skin cancer to kids,” she said, because the idea of skin cancer is “too remote” to them. Instead, teens should be cautioned about “premature wrinkling” and “what a bummer it is to get a sunburn and not be able to do what…you want to do,” she said.
In the “SunSafe in the Middle School Years” study, Olson and her colleagues recruited adults and teen peer leaders in 10 communities to educate middle schoolers about the importance of protecting themselves from the sun.
Rather than relying on classroom instruction alone, the SunSafe participants used poster contests, buttons and a variety of other means to promote their sun-safety message. Students in the SunSafe communities were also given the opportunity to view their own and others’ faces in a portable Dermascan device, which allows people to see changes in their skin that are invisible in normal light.
The researchers afterwards conducted annual observations of teenagers, including a group that had not participated in the SunSafe intervention program, at community beaches and pools. Altogether, their study involved 1,927 students in 6th to 8th grade.
Two years after the SunSafe program, students in the intervention group showed better sun protection behaviors than teens who had not participated in the SunSafe program, Olson’s group reports in the January issue of Pediatrics.
On average, SunSafe teens protected about two thirds (66 percent) of their body surface area, compared with about 57 percent of the body surface area protected by other teens.
“This new ecological approach shows promise in changing adolescent sun protection behaviors and reducing skin cancer risks,” the researchers conclude.