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Am Fam Physician. 2002;65(10):2147

The incidence of skin cancers has increased dramatically over the past few years. Excessive sun exposure has been associated with this increase. It is believed that as much as 80 percent of total lifetime sun exposure occurs during childhood. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concludes that “avoiding sun exposure or using protective clothing is likely to decrease the risk of malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.” In addition, current recommendations from Healthy People 2010 for preventing skin cancer include the following: avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.; wearing sun-protective clothing when exposed to sunlight; using sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher; and avoiding artificial ultraviolet light sources. Despite these and other recommendations, children still receive a significant amount of sun exposure. Johnson and associates examined the relationship between parents' knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors concerning sun protection and the subsequent use of sun protection practices that benefit their children.

The study was a descriptive survey of parents of children 1 to 16 years of age who attended a university medical clinic in Florida. A systematic sampling of 100 parents was performed. Participants completed a 43-item questionnaire concerning current use of sun protection and their attitudes and knowledge about sun protection.

Only 43 percent of the respondents reported regular use of sun protection for their children. The most common sun protection method used was sunscreen. Those who had a more positive attitude about sun protection were more likely to report using it for their children. The primary reason for using sunscreen was prevention of sunburn. Some respondents had certain beliefs that made them less likely to use sun protection, including the belief that sun exposure was healthy, that children look better with tans, and that if children wore sunscreen they could stay out in the sun for a longer period.

The authors conclude that sun protection for children is infrequently used and is focused more on sunscreen than on reducing total sun exposure. In addition, parents had attitudes and beliefs that made it difficult for them to accept sun protection recommendations. The authors add that when trying to assist parents in establishing sun protection habits for their children, they need to address the parents' attitudes and knowledge about these issues.

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Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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