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Keywords:

  • school children;
  • skin cancer;
  • sun awareness;
  • sun protection

ABSTRACT

Background  Studies indicate that reducing exposure to ultraviolet light during childhood and adolescence decreases the risk of skin cancer. From a young age, children need to be educated about the sun's harmful effects on the skin and how best to protect themselves.

Objective  To help in the design of school-based interventions to raise sun awareness, a school survey was carried out to identify students’ stereotypes and misconceptions.

Study design  A total of 965 students attending Maltese secondary schools in forms 1, 2 and 3 were surveyed in May 2002, using a structured questionnaire designed to examine students’ sun-related attitudes and knowledge.

Results  A high level of sun awareness among students was demonstrated, with high scores on knowledge of the effects of the sun on the skin, knowledge of skin cancer and knowledge of sun protection. Girls were clearly more knowledgeable than boys. However, of all the students surveyed, 55% thought that a suntan made them look better and 70% thought that their friends would desire a tan. These views were commoner among the older students. Skin type and hair or eye colour had no bearing on attitudes towards tanning or sun-related knowledge. The commonest misconceptions were that ‘the sun is bad for your skin only when you get sunburnt’ and that ‘you cannot get too much sun on a cloudy day’. Deliberate suntanning was more frequently reported by girls than by boys and by students in the higher forms.

Conclusion  Attitude change lags behind knowledge. Future school sun awareness interventions need to take into account gender and age differences in students’ attitudes and perspectives. They should aim at motivating attitude change and preventive behaviour through consistent and repeated sun-education messages that are supported by a sun-conscious school environment.