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US teens shunning sunscreen reports new study

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According to a new study, less US teens are using sunscreen while the rates of skin cancer including, deadly melanoma, are increasing. In addition, the use of tanning salons is increasing. The findings are of particular importance to residents of Sunbelt locations such as Southern California where sunshine is plentiful. The findings were presented on August 21 in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease by researchers at William Patterson University in New Jersey. The journal is published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The study authors note that skin cancer is the most common cancer in the US. From 2001 to 2010, the incidence of melanoma increased each year by 1.6% among men and by 1.4% among women; thus, preventive measures, such as using sunscreen and avoiding artificial tanning devices, are recommended to avoid developing skin cancer. In addition, skin-protection behaviors are particularly important for children and teens because sun exposure during childhood and adolescence directly influences the development of skin cancer later in life, Therefore they conducted a study to assess the use of sunscreen and indoor tanning devices among a nationally representative sample of high school students during a 10-year period (2001–2011).

For the study, the accessed data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YTBSS). The data represented each sex, race/ethnicity group, high school grade, and almost every US state. The study focused on the analysis of responses to two YRBSS questions: (1) When you are outside for more than one hour on a sunny day, how often do you wear sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher? and (2) During the past 12 months, how many times did you use an indoor tanning device, such as a sunlamp, sunbed, or tanning booth?

The investigators found that the overall percentage of students who reported using sunscreen dropped from 67.7% in 2001 to 56.1% in 2011. The lowest prevalence during the study period occurred in 2005 (55.3%). Similar patterns were found among Caucasian males and females. Overall, a larger percentage of females than males consistently reported using sunscreen. In addition, Caucasian students reported using sunscreen at higher rates than African Americans, Hispanic, and other racial/ethnic groups. The rates of sunscreen use were similar for all grade levels.

The study authors stressed that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation is a risk factor for skin cancer and that prevention of overexposure is especially important during childhood and adolescence. They concluded that their study supports past research that adolescents practice behaviors that increase the risk for skin cancer. In addition, the study found that certain demographic subgroups, girls and young women, are especially at risk for engaging in unsafe skin-protection practices. They recommended that future preventive efforts should prioritize these young people.