Teenagers and the risks of sunbathing: why knowledge is not enough?
The incidence of skin cancer, including melanoma, continues to increase and studies show that teenagers are especially vulnerable, as are young females.
The incidence of melanoma among young women in their twenties and thirties is worrying and still increasing in some regions. In US till early 2000s, nearly 2.3 million American teenagers visited tanning salons. Many countries in EU, Brazil and Australia have already banned tanning salons to anyone under the age of 18. In the States since 2009 a lot of local administrations have introduced limitations for young people (16-18). Nevertheless, according to the Skin Cancer Organization, more than 419.000 cases of skin cancer each year are linked to indoor tanning and some states are incredibly lenient: Virginia only requires people under 15 obtain a written permission from parents and no restriction is applied once a teen turns 16. Similar restrictions are applied in Indiana and others states but they are easy to be worked around.
Recent studies show that indoor tanning significantly decreased among students between 2009 and 2015 following prevention campaigns on the risks of sunbathing and indoor tanning salons, however several surveys demonstrate that the knowledge of the dangerous effects of UV rays is not correlate to a safer behaviour among young people.
There appears to be a disconnect between knowledge and sun tanning behaviours.
Most teenagers still believe that tans are attractive and teenage girls continue to use tanning salons and tan naturally. There are several explanations for this: young people feel invincible and the elapse between dangerous exposure habits and the development of skin cancer is long, moreover teenagers are keen to follow public and famous examples. They feel they look more attractive and healthier with a tan looking to their ‘heroes’ and beauty icons (who might be tanned because of their ethnic origin!).
Prevention campaigns should consider changing these perceptions and provide positive reinforcements for teenagers changing the norms reflected in behaviour among celebrities or models and involving them as speakers and mentors.
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