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Sunburn And Sun Protection Among New Zealand Youth

SEEING RED: SUNBURN AND SUN PROTECTION
AMONG NEW ZEALAND YOUTH

Researchers based in the Dunedin School of Medicine have recently published a study in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, which examined sunburn and sun protection among New Zealand adolescents.

The survey involved contacting individuals aged 12-17 years on a Monday night and asking about their activities during the previous summer weekend. This gave researchers a ‘snapshot’ of typical adolescent behaviour over a summer weekend.

Fewer than half of adolescents who were outside during the peak solar radiation hours (11am -4pm) wore sunscreen and only a quarter wore hats. Given these disappointingly low levels of sun protection, it was not surprising that sunburn was also common. It is a concern that over the course of one summer weekend, almost one in three of the adolescents sampled experienced sunburn.

Even among those who used sun protection, its use was often less than optimal. Only 8% of hats worn had broad-brims, most being a ‘cap’ style, which doesn’t offer protection to the ears and neck. Sunscreen was reapplied by fewer than half of those who used it. This was a serious problem as those who used sunscreen but did not reapply it had a greatly elevated risk of sunburn.

New Zealand has among the highest melanoma incidence and death rates in the world – around 1,600 new cases and 200 deaths a year. Yet melanoma is largely attributable to excessive sun exposure, in particular, occasional severe exposure resulting in sunburn.

Reducing sunburn during childhood and adolescence is particularly beneficial in reducing melanoma risk. Greater understanding of the attitudes and behaviours surrounding sunburn will help identify potential targets for change.

There are a variety of sun protection options, all of which have particular benefits and weaknesses. It is important that adolescents have access to a combination of sun protection options that is effective for the activities they choose, be it swimming, cycling, reading or simply chatting with friends outdoors.

ENDS

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