For many, sun exposure is believed to be something to avoid at all costs. While there are a variety of health benefits gained from sun exposure, the risks of skin cancer, advanced aging and burns is a primary contributor to sun fearing habits.
Of course, those with a history of skin cancer or who experience a poor reaction to sun exposure must avoid the sun But what about the individuals who may be able to fit safe and sensible sun exposure into their daily routine yet continue to refrain? How could education affect this portion of the population?
A recent study explored the attitudes and beliefs of parents on sun exposure and UV protection in their young children. Researchers interviewed the parents of 22 United Kingdom children under the age of five to determine their understanding of sun protection and the motivating principles that drove their beliefs. Additionally, the skin types of the participants were classified based off of the Fitzpatrick skin type classification.
There were four overarching themes discovered during these interviews:
- Attitude towards exposing children to the sun: the researchers summarized that parents believed sun protection to be important for children, and this was consistent across all skin types. However, some attitudes were of a higher degree of concern than others. For example, some parents were self-proclaimed “overly-cautious” while others more nonchalantly expressed the importance of sun protection.
- Sun protection practices: almost all participants reported a variety of sun protection practices including sunscreen, shades, covering clothing and hats. Many of the interviewed participants reported less adherence to these practices on themselves.
- Sun safety knowledge: the risk of skin cancer was the primary motivation for sun protection habits; Furthermore, there was uncertainty of the benefits of sun exposure, though many parents were able to identify vitamin D as the primary benefit.
- Motivating and facilitating factors: motivations for sun protection included the damaging aspects of overexposure and the social and emotional responsibility for protecting children from the sun.
The researchers concluded:
“Parent’s in this qualitative research, regardless of children’s ethnicity, were found to be well equipped with knowledge of sun protection methods, and motivated to apply this knowledge in protecting their children. It identifies key areas of uncertainty such as vitamin D needs, sunscreen properties and the need for protection in the UK…”
The Vitamin D Council recognizes the importance of sun protection, especially in young children. This is why we continue to stress that moderation is key. In order to gain the full health benefits of sun exposure, including but not limited to vitamin D production, while avoiding the damaging effects of overexposure, education is key.
Though a small representation of participants, this study indicates some gaps in sun exposure education. Is this an area of health education promotion to target more heavily in the future? Let us know what you think at [email protected]