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Allison is a second-year Masters in Public Health student in the department of Health Behavior and Health Education at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Why are teens not getting the sunscreen message?

Many of today’s teens aren’t getting the message that sun exposure is greatly damaging to health and appearance, and may even be deadly.

A prospective study in Pediatrics surveyed assessed sun behaviors and sunburn prevalence in fifth graders in 2004, following up with the same group again in 2007. Over time, liking a tan and spending time in the sun increased, while sunscreen use behaviors dropped sharply.

Existing health communication campaigns are challenged to compete with standards of beauty and perceived attractiveness of tanned skin, especially for this age group. Some campaigns, like the American Cancer Society’s “Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap!,” may resonate more with parents and adults concerned with sun safety than with young teens.

How can health communicators reach out to youth, particularly at an age when adults may have less influence? Perhaps we can learn from campaigns to prevent tanning bed use by minors; it seems, for instance, that young people may be more motivated by concerns about appearance than by fears of deadly skin cancers.

Do you know of campaigns targeting teens for sunscreen use and/or sun exposure?

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