Not enough teens protected from UV exposure

September 4, 2014

Despite overwhelming information on the benefits of sunscreen and the harms of tanning, the number of high school students using sunscreen has been on the decline since 2001 while the number using tanning devices has risen in prevalence, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Despite overwhelming information on the benefits of sunscreen and the harms of tanning, the number of high school students using sunscreen has been on the decline since 2001 while the number using tanning devices has risen in prevalence, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

From 2001 to 2010, the incidence of melanoma has increased by 1.6% among men and by 1.4% among women every year. Skin cancer remains the most common form of cancer in the United States and preventive measures such as using sunscreen and not using artificial tanning devices are recommended to reduce the risk. Because the level of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light as a child and adolescent directly influence the potential to develop skin cancer in later years, the practice of skin protection behavior is key to prevention.

Every 2 years the CDC, through the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, asks high school-aged students about their exposure to UV light: how often they wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher when spending more than 1 hour outside on a sunny day, and how many times in the past 12 months they have used an indoor tanning device.

Overall, the number of adolescents reporting sunscreen use declined from 67.7% in 2001 to 56.1% in 2011. The lowest prevalence was 55.3% that occurred in 2005. Girls were more likely to consistently use sunscreen than their male counterparts. Additionally, white students reported higher rates of sunscreen use than their black, Hispanic, or other racial/ethnic peers. Sunscreen use rates were similar across grade levels.

The overall percentage of respondents using indoor tanning was 15.6% in 2001 and 13.3% in 2011. Males were far less likely to report using indoor tanning (6.7% in 2009 and 6.2% in 2011) than female respondents (25.4% in 2009 and 20.9% in 2011). White females used tanning devices more than all other subgroups: 37.4% in 2009 and 29.3% in 2011. They were also the ones most likely to report heavy use of indoor tanning in the previous 12 months: 12.9% in 2009 and 11.0% in 2011.

The World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the CDC all advise against the use of indoor tanning beds. 

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