Predicting Children's Sunscreen Use: Application of the Theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behavior

Prev Med. 1999 Jul;29(1):37-44. doi: 10.1006/pmed.1999.0500.


Background: Skin cancer remains the most common form of cancer in the United States despite the fact that most cases can be prevented by limiting sun exposure. Childhood and adolescence are periods of life during which prolonged sun exposure is particularly common. Accordingly, promoting sun-protective behaviors during these formative years can be of critical importance in preventing skin cancer. The present study applied the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior to the understanding of children's sunscreen use. Based on these theories, it was hypothesized that attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control would be related to intentions to use sunscreen, which, in turn, would be related to actual sunscreen use.

Methods: Questionnaires measuring sun-related attitudes, beliefs, perceived control, and intentions were administered to 199 fourth graders (ages 9 to 13, mean = 10.3) attending public schools in Florida. Self-report measures of sun-related behavior were administered to the same subjects 1 month later.

Results: Results of correlational analyses were consistent with study hypotheses. Higher rates of sunscreen use at follow-up were predicted by stronger intentions to use sunscreen assessed 1 month previously. In addition, stronger intentions to use sunscreen were found to be related to more favorable attitudes toward sunscreen use, stronger beliefs that peers and parents favored sunscreen use, and greater perceptions of personal control in using sunscreen. Path and multiple regression analyses identified direct and indirect relationships among study variables that partially confirmed those predicted by the theories and provided support for the use of an expanded model that included perceived behavioral control.

Conclusions: The present study confirmed hypotheses derived from the theories of reasoned action and planned behavior regarding the relation of attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control to sunscreen use among fourth graders. In addition to their theoretical significance, these findings suggest ways to intervene at the individual, classroom, and family levels to promote greater sunscreen use in this age group.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Forecasting
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Motivation
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skin Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Skin Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Sunscreening Agents / administration & dosage*


  • Sunscreening Agents