"SunSafe in the Middle School Years" was a middle school research project conducted to improve awareness and educate teenagers about the prevention of skin cancer and the need for sun protection. The research study has been published in the January issue of Pediatrics.
The study provided a two-year follow-up period indicating that teens who participated in the program were much better about using sun protection devices than those teens who had not participated in the program.
The "SunSafe" project involved the cooperation of schools staff, recreational sports program coaches, parents and health care professionals. According to the study results, this may be the intervention needed to improve the behaviors of teens in protecting themselves better from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.
The research took place within 10 communities in Vermont and New Hampshire. Funding was provided by the National Cancer Institute and was directed by pediatrician Ardis Olsen, MD and colleagues.
According to the "Primary Care Practice Manual" produced through the project, reducing sun exposure can eliminate 90 percent of skin cancers that currently occur in 1 of 5 Americans.
The middle school years were noted as being an especially important time to be sure that teenagers are given the important information regarding the risks and precautions of sun exposure. The project establishes that the teenage years are influential as a time when children begin to establish their own health habits. The hopes to influence these habits in a healthy way can prevent many individuals from having to suffer from future skin cancer.
Some of the findings from the study include that only about 30 percent of middle school students protect themselves from the sun. Seventy percent of the children surveyed had suffered from a sunburn during the previous summer.
Statistics indicate that one or more blistering sunburn before 20 years of age doubles the risk of getting skin cancer.
Children have three times as much exposure to the sun as adults. Therefore, statistically, the majority of lifetime sun exposure occurs by the age of 18 years.
Health care providers should take part in the responsibility to discuss sun exposure with the teenagers as well as parents, teachers and coaches. However, this study found that only one-third of physicians had spoken to their patients about this subject.
Pediatricians who incorporated the "SunSafe" information message into their visits with their patients resulted in nearly a 10 percent increase of informed teenagers.
The approach of the SunSafe project was not to simply use classroom instruction, but to include poster contests, buttons and other means of promoting the sun-safety message. A medical device was also used to allow children to see skin changes that are not visible to the naked eye in normal light.
According to the researchers, public health efforts for the different approaches as used by SunSafe seem to show promise for establishing changes in adolescent behaviors in order to reduce skin cancer risks.
By Patricia Shehan, All Headline News, January 11, 2007