Objectives. To describe the association of sunscreen use, sunburning, and tanning bed use by age, sex, residence, and psychosocial variables associated with tan-seeking behaviors, and to compare these findings with sun protection recommendations from federal agencies and cancer organizations.
Methods. A cross-sectional study, from all 50 states, of 10 079 boys and girls 12 to 18 years of age in 1999. Data were collected from self-report questionnaires with the children of the participants from the Nurses Health Study (Growing Up Today Study).
Results. The prevalence of sunscreen use was 34.4% with girls more likely to use sunscreen than boys (40.0 vs 26.4, odds ratio: 1.86; 95% confidence interval: 1.70–2.03). Eighty-three percent of respondents had at least 1 sunburn during the previous summer, and 36% had 3 or more sunburns. Nearly 10% of respondents used a tanning bed during the previous year. Girls were far more likely than boys to report tanning bed use (14.4 vs 2.4), and older girls (ages 15–18) were far more likely than younger girls (ages 12–14) to report tanning bed use (24.6% vs 4.7). Tanning bed use increased from 7% among 14-year-old girls to 16% by age 15, and more than doubled again by age 17 (35%; N = 244). Multivariate analysis demonstrated that attitudes associated with tanning, such as the preference for tanned skin, having many friends who were tanned, and belief in the worth of burning to get a tan, were generally associated with sporadic sunscreen use, more frequent sunburns, and increased use of tanning beds.
Conclusions. Our findings suggest that many children are at subsequent risk of skin cancer because of suboptimal sunscreen use, high rates of sunburning, and tanning bed use. Recommendations in the United States for improved sun protection and avoidance of tanning beds and sunburning, which began in the early 1990s, have been primarily unheeded. Nationally coordinated campaigns with strong policy components must be developed and sustained to prevent skin cancer in a new generation of children and adolescents.