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Child sun protection: Attitudes may be the key

Commerce Building from Clyde Street

Wednesday 4 February 2009 12:52pm

Educating school children about the health risks of excessive and harmful sun exposure is not enough in itself to ensure sun-smart behaviour - pro-tanning attitudes need to be tackled too, according to latest University of Otago research.

The study, involving nearly 500 New Zealand primary and intermediate school children, found that older children knew more about the risks, but their attitudes and behaviour in the sun were much less protective than those of their younger, less-knowledgeable peers.

The findings are published in the current issue of the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.

Paper co-author Dr Caradee Wright says that it was only when children held positive attitudes about sun protective behaviour that knowing about excess sun exposure risk was significantly associated with being sun-smart.

"Our findings indicate that attitudes should be specifically targeted when designing sun protection and skin cancer prevention programmes aimed at influencing the sun-related behaviours of children."

"Provided children have adequate knowledge, once pro-tanning attitudes are reversed, it is reasonable to expect that appropriate sun-protective behaviour would increase."

The study involved surveying children in Year levels 4 and 8 from 27 primary schools in five regions of New Zealand during the summer of 2004-5 regarding their sun-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviours.

It also found that one-third of children reported that their friends thought that a sun tan was 'a good thing', and one-quarter reported that family members thought similarly.

Study co-author Dr Tony Reeder says that while many children had reasonable knowledge about sun protection and skin cancer, there were concerns about aspects of their knowledge.

"It is worrying that one-quarter of the children considered it safe to get sunburnt once or twice a year and that almost two-thirds reported having been sunburnt the previous summer," says Dr Reeder, who is Director of the Cancer Society's Social & Behavioural Research Unit at the University.

This was despite nearly two-thirds agreeing that avoiding sunburn was a good way to reduce skin cancer risk, he says.

"Given that melanoma later in life is associated with recall of sunburn in childhood, it is disturbing that so many children continue to experience sunburn."

For more information, please contact

Dr. Tony Reeder, Director
Cancer Society Social & Behavioural Research Unit
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
Dunedin School of Medicine
Tel 64 3 479 7257 or message to 03 479 7177

Dr Judith Galtry
Advisor, Skin Cancer Control
Cancer Society of New Zealand Inc
National Office
Tel 64 4 494 7196

Lynne St.Clair-Chapman
National Communications Manager
Cancer Society of New Zealand Inc

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