CDC Releases Data On Sun Protective Behaviors And Sunburns
May 11, 2012

CDC Releases Data On Sun Protective Behaviors And Sunburns

Connie K. Ho for

The CDC reports in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that “skin cancer is an important health concern” and cites it as the most common form of cancer in the United States.

In studying sunburn and sun protective behaviors for people between the ages of 18 and 29, the CDC teamed up with the National Cancer Institute to look at data from 2000, 2003, 2005, 2008, and the 2010 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS).

In terms of skin cancer, melanoma is the deadliest form. Both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers can leave scars and decrease a person´s quality of life. According to the CDC, too much exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause sunburns and lead to skin cancer. Sunburns are used to help track the work of skin cancer prevention.

Although people have utilized sunscreen, used shade, and worn longer clothing, there is still a strong occurrence of sunburn. In 2010, 50.1 percent of adults and 65.6 percent of whites between the ages of 18 and 29 reported having a minimum of one sunburn within the last 12 months. This shows that more work needs to be done in identifying and implementing strategies to promote sun protective strategies for young people. This will ultimately help prevent sunburn and skin cancer.

"We think this a public health epidemic in the making," commented Marcus Plescia, director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, in a USA Today article. "This kind of exposure to UV radiation in young adult women could cause the incidence of melanoma to go up significantly. Right now it's the seventh most common cancer in women and if we don't do something, it could go much higher."

NHIS is a yearly, cross-sectional survey of the U.S. population and data is collected on family members of all ages throughout the year. The interviews for the report were conducted mostly in person with people ages 18 and up. The study also utilized information from the NHIS cancer control supplement, which included people´s answers regarding sun protective behaviors and sunburns. Specifically, participants were asked questions regarding daily sunscreen usage, the SPF of the sunscreen they wear, how long they usually stay in the shade, as well as when do they normally wear hats and long-sleeves.

In the report, according to answers from the 2010 data, women stated that they utilized sun protective behaviors like staying in the shade and using sunscreen the most. Wearing a hat with a wide brim and long-sleeve clothing were the least likely ways of protecting women from the sun. The amount of people who stayed away from the sun by staying in the shade increased from 29.4 percent to 30.5 from 2000 to 2008. There was another increase in the number of people staying in the shade, with a total of 34.9 percent in 2010. Sunscreen usage improved from 2000 to 2010, and wearing long clothing increased from 21.1 percent in 2005 to 25.7 percent in 2010.

For men, according to answers from the 2010 data, they were most likely to wear long clothing as a sun behavior protective mechanism. Besides wearing long clothing, men also stayed in the sun and used sunscreen. Males were less likely to wear hats with wide brims or long-sleeved shirts. Shade use increased over the years; males reported a range of 18.5 percent to 20.6 percent of shade use between 2008 and 2008. There was also an increase of shade use in 2010, with a total of 25.6 percent. More people also wore long clothing, moving up from 28.3 percent in 2005 to 32.9 percent in 2010.  Lastly, there was an uptick in the number of males using sunscreen; it increased from 13.6 percent in 2005 to 15.6 percent in 2010.

In terms of data related to ethnic background, white women were less likely to utilize shade while black women were less likely to use sunscreen as compared to people of other races or Hispanics. As well, sunburns were reported most by whites (65.6 percent in 2010) and least by blacks (10.9 percent in 2010).

The report also gathered information on people´s use of tanning beds in 2010. Non-Hispanic white women between 18 and 21 were the ones who used the indoor tanning devices the most (32 percent). Those who used the indoor tanning beds, attended an average of 28 sessions over the past year. Of the Non-Hispanic whites who reported using the tanning beds, 58 percent were women and 40 were men who had used the devices ten times or more in the last year. Lastly, non-Hispanic white women between the ages of 18 and 21 in the Midwest as well as non-Hispanic white women between 22 and 25 in the South were the ones who were most likely to use the tanning devices.

Medical professionals find this information, especially the data about tanning beds, alarming.

"We are in the midst of a skin cancer epidemic right now, and young people are ignoring all the warnings about the dangers of tanning salons," remarked Daniel Siegel, president of the American Academy of Dermatology, in the USA Today article.