Let it Burn! Pre-Teens Forgo Use Of Sunscreen
There are a few basic health truths that seem like no-brainers. Eat nutritious food. Don't drink too much alcohol. Get some exercise now and again. Use a seatbelt in a moving vehicle. Slap on some sunscreen before going outside.
One problem. Despite all the warnings and research we have documenting the association between sunburns and increasing risks of skin cancer, applying sunscreen is often neglected or ignored. I work as a primary health care provider, and can attest to this fact. During the dog days of summer, I am often dumbfounded by the numbers of adults and children who stagger in to see me, redder than lobsters, begging for some relief from their sunburn. It seems like common sense, except for many people, it isn't.
A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics seems to back up my observations. Researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York followed 360 children from the ages of 10 to 13 to assess the prevalence of sunburns and the use of sunscreen in this population. Participants were given surveys at the age of 10, and were again given surveys at the age of 13. Approximately 50% of students at the age of 10 reported having at least one sunburn in the most recent summer; these same students used sunscreen approximately 50% of the time. However, by the age of 13, only 25% of this same group report using sunscreen when spending 6 hours or more outdoors in the summer.
Clearly, there seems to be a problem. As children age, and approach the teenage years, they struggle to assert their independence by engaging in any number of so-called "risk-taking" behaviors. Avoiding the use of sunscreen may be one of these types of behaviors. Pre-adolescents do not have the ability to fully perceive risk, so it is not surprising that they may not see the necessity of applying sunscreen.
The problem is this: sunburns, even one sunburn obtained in childhood, may cause damage to the DNA of the skin which increases the risk of developing malignant melanoma in adulthood. Malignant melanoma is the most serious of the skin cancers, accounting for almost 9000 deaths in the US in 2011. Clearly, public health campaigns will need to continue to reinforce the necessity of sunscreen use in children and adolescents.
Image courtesy of AlexisLynn