Public Release: 

Children Benefit Most From Sun Safety Interventions

Center for Advancing Health

Children have most to gain from sun safety behaviors, as an estimated 80 percent of total lifetime exposure occurs during childhood, according to a team of University of Hawaii and Harvard scientists.

The researchers studied a multi-ethnic group of 756 children in Hawaii aged six to eight, their parents, and 176 members of outdoor recreation program staffs. The study's primary goal was to gain better understanding of factors that influence people to adopt sun protection practices. The conclusions are published in the June issue of Health Education & Behavior.

"To date, there have been few rigorously tested interventions for children's skin cancer prevention and none that also focus on their parents and caregivers," said Principal Investigator Karen Glanz, Ph.D., M.P.H. of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii. "Our findings have contributed to the design of SunSmart program here in Hawaii and we hope they can have significant impact on prevention behaviors elsewhere, too."

Survey questions focused on prevention practices such as: limiting time spend in the sun, avoiding the sun during peak hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., using sunscreen with a protection factor of 15 or higher on a daily basis, wearing hats, shirts, pants and other protective clothing, wearing sun glasses, seeking shade, avoiding sunburn, and making sun safety a family habit. The survey also looked into sun protection policies at the recreation programs and the personal sun protection practices of parents and recreation program staff.

Among the survey findings:

  • Parents' sun safety habits strongly influence children's behaviors.

  • Recreation programs' policies on sun protection predict children's practices well but are not significantly associated with parents' practices.

  • Fewer than half of the children "usually or always" use sunscreen when outdoors in the sun. But more than 80 percent of the children use sunscreen before going to the beach.

  • Half of the children wear a shirt with sleeves, 23 percent usually seek shade, 19 percent usually wear a hat, and 4.4 percent wear sunglasses.

  • Parents were less likely to use sunscreen on themselves than on their children but they scored higher than children on overall sun protection habits mainly due to wearing sunglasses more often than children.
The research was supported by funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Public Health Service and conducted in collaboration with the Hawaii State Department of Health.


Health Education & Behavior, a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), publishes research on critical health issues for professionals in the implementation and administration of public health information programs. SOPHE is an international, non-profit professional organization that promotes the health of all people through education. For additional information, contact Elaine Auld at 202-408-9804.

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