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A little fear can lead to healthy sun protection habits

Provided by: RELAXNEWS
Written by: Relaxnews
Jul. 2, 2014

Why do YOU use sunscreen? Recent studies see health professionals discussing how best to deliver the sun protection message. (BlueOrange Studio / shutterstock.com)


A study from the University at Buffalo in New York suggests that fear of developing skin cancer is the driving force behind sunblock use, more so than existing statistics reflecting the likelihood that it will happen.

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Marc Kiviniemi, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior, used the data collected during a US study by the National Cancer Institute that involved approximately 1,500 participants.

Study participants were selected based on an absence of personal history of skin cancer and answered questions about sunblock use and their worries and estimated risks of developing the disease.

Although only 14% of subjects reported always using sunblock, and a significant portion -- 32%-- reported never using it, each individual reflected on hypothetical worry when describing what motivates them to grease up before greeting the sun.

Kiviniemi points out that such worry, called "cognitive risk" in scientific terms, is often labeled as an irrational influence and devalued by researchers and health care workers.

"These findings show that clinicians might want to think more about feelings when encouraging people to use sunscreen," says Kiviniemi. "In addition to providing educational information about risk, encouraging people to consider how they feel about cancer and how worried they are about it might inspire preventive behaviors."

The study was published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the University of Colorado Cancer Center in January that found teenagers use sunblock in fear of losing their beauty rather than fear of disease. While the findings are different, the fear factor does appear to be consistent.

Researchers for the Colorado study recruited 50 subjects from local high schools and gauged their knowledge of sun protection by means of a questionnaire, after which they were divided randomly into two groups.

One group was asked to watch a video about the dangers of skin cancer, while the other viewed one about premature aging provoked by sun damage.

Researchers revisited both groups six weeks later and found those who had watched the expose; on cosmetic sun damage had taken full control of their health -- ok, beauty -- and significantly upped their sunblock dosage on a regular basis.

The other group had made little to no changes in their habits, according to April W. Armstrong, MD MPH, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and vice chair of Clinical Research at the CU School of Medicine Department of Dermatology.

"For teenagers, telling them UV exposure will lead to skin cancer is not as effective as we would hope," says Armstrong. "If our endgame is to modify their behavior, we need to tailor our message in the right way and in this case the right way is by highlighting consequences to appearance rather than health. It's important to address now -- if we can help them start this behavior when younger, it can affect skin cancer risk when older."

Both studies present a valuable lesson that a little fear can go a long way in terms of health, and that the message must be adjusted according to the age of the audience.

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