Skin Cancer Fears Doesn't Keep Kids Indoors
September 7, 2012

Parental Awareness On Skin Protection Studied

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Researchers from the University of Colorado Cancer Center recently reported that, even though parents are anxious about skin cancer, their concern doesn´t necessarily help keep their children inside.

In the project, the scientists utilized data from 999 Colorado children born in 1998 along with evidence of a child cohort of eight to nine-year-olds who were part of the Colorado´s Kids Sun Care Program. The Colorado´s Kids Sun Care Program is a research program that has been in effect since 1998. The researchers conducted phone interviews with parents to better understand their level of concern on melanoma, the demographics of the population, sun protection behaviors, and physical activity.

“Actually, our hypothesis was the opposite — that if parents were concerned about skin cancer they wouldn´t let their children go out as much,” explained Alexander Tran, a summer fellow working with the Colorado School of Public Health´s chair of the Department of Community and Behavior Health Lori Crane, in a prepared statement.

Questions asked by the team included “How serious do you think melanoma is?” and “How easy or hard is it for doctors to treat a typical case of melanoma?” The researchers also noted how many hours per day the kids spent outdoors as well as completed physical examinations to find out the phenotype, freckling, and the children´s body mass indexes (BMI). The researchers controlled for possible confounding factors, such as race, skin color, and socioeconomic status.

The findings of the study showed that hours of outside play were not associated with perceived risk of melanoma or skin cancer. They also found that promoting sun safety among children was not likely to limit physical activity. In fact, higher levels of outdoor physical activity were related to more frequent use of skin protection.

The researchers proposed that parents whose children were more involved in outdoor activities were more aware of skin cancer severity and thus had their children use more skin protection. The team proposed that skin cancer prevention programs maintain promotion of midday sun avoidance and use of sun protection during activities outside.

“Our new hypothesis is that maybe we had the relationship reversed,” continued Tran in the statement. “Perhaps instead of higher melanoma concern leading to staying inside, it´s the parents of kids who spend the most time outside who are most concerned about skin cancer. This is a good finding – it suggests that children can get plenty of outdoor physical activity and prevent skin cancer by using good sun protection measures such as wearing a hat and shirt, and applying sunscreen.”

In moving forward, the investigators intend to look at the interrelationships between obesity, outdoor play, skin cancer awareness, and sun protection behaviors.

“Some studies generate more questions than answers,” commented Tran in the statement.

According to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the leading cause of cancer in the United States. Sun exposure is one of the key factors that affect the risk of skin cancer and intense exposure to the sun can later lead to the development of skin cancer. Options for sun protection include applying sunscreen and donning hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants.

Results of the study were published this week in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.