Researchers found that only a quarter of 14-year-olds were using sun protection regularly.
The 3-year study, published in the journal Pediatrics, documented sunscreen use of 360 American kids, along with their tanning behaviors. The participants were first surveyed in 2004 as fifth graders, and they were surveyed again in 2007 as eighth graders.
Researchers found that:
- More than half (53 percent) had suffered at least one sunburn by the age of 11.
- Half used sunscreen at the beginning of the study, but only 25 percent still did three years later.
- The proportion of kids who admitted to “liking a tan and spending time outside to get a tan significantly increased” as they got older.
- 2 of 10 went outside just to tan when they were in fifth grade; 4 out of 10 did by eighth grade.
According to the authors, the years of “periadolescence” (ages 11 to 14) seem to be “a crucial period” when kids and teens “increase or decrease their use of sun protection, obtain sunburns, or change their tan-promoting attitudes.”
“I think especially at this age, and in general, there are a lot of forces that promote tanning,” said lead researcher Dr. Stephen Dusza, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Dr. Sophie Balk, a pediatrician, remarked that the study sheds light on the fact that many kids aren’t protecting their skin.
“The problem is if you sunburn in childhood,” Dr. Balk says “you raise your risk of developing skin cancer later on.”
The next step, according to Dr. Dusza, is figuring out how to effectively promote sun protection in pediatric offices and community settings, like beaches and sporting events.
In addition to wearing sunscreen, Balk recommends protecting your skin with sun-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.