Half of all Australians still believe a tan is healthy

New research showing half of all Australians still believe a tan is healthy has added to cancer experts’ fears of a prolonged national skin cancer epidemic.

The finding is contained in preliminary data from the first National Sun Survey, released by The Cancer Council Australia.

The Cancer Council’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Alan Coates, described the finding as “disturbing” and said that while sun protection programs had made an impact, there was still a widespread lack of understanding about the dangers of sun exposure.

“Back in the 1980s we would have expected a much higher response to the question of a tan being healthy and while this research demonstrates we have made progress, clearly we have a long way to go,” Professor Coates said.

“In terms of the cancer impact, we had previously thought that once skin cancers had peaked in the baby boomer generation, who had far less knowledge about the dangers of sun exposure, that there would be a significant reduction through a more sun-aware generation X, however these findings indicate we need a continuing strong national campaign, particularly targeting youth.”

The National Sun Survey, to be released in full in November, is the first nationwide study of Australians’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviour related to sun protection.

Chair of The Cancer Council Australia’s Skin Cancer Committee, Craig Sinclair, said the problem was more pronounced with young males aged 18-24, of whom 56% thought a suntanned person looked healthier, compared with 43% of females in the same age group.

“These results are alarming,” Mr Sinclair said. “There are many influences on the population’s perception of a tan being healthy. The most disturbing is the solarium industry continually trying to convince us to ‘aspire’ to have a perfectly tanned body. What the solarium advertising fails to show is the effect of tanning, which is premature ageing of the skin and the possible occurrence of skin cancer.”

”We can see the sun protection message is starting to resonate with younger females, but we are a long way short of where we should be. And clearly we need a national education campaign targeting young people.”

Mr Sinclair attributed the better result among females to the impact of prevention messages through women’s and lifestyle magazines, which had played an important role in educating young Australian women of the dangers of tanning. “However, men just don’t seem to be getting the same level of information,” he said.

“Fashion and media play a vital role in influencing the behaviour of young Australians. We must continue to be vigilant if we are to make any significant impact on the 380,000 Australians diagnosed with skin cancer every year,” Mr Sinclair said.

Other preliminary findings from the National Sun Survey:

  • 60% of Australians believe there is a chance they could get skin cancer
  • 72% of 18–24 year-olds believe most of their friends would think a suntan is a good thing, compared with just 45% of 25–44 year olds.
  • Only 26% believe their family would think a suntan is a good thing.

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