Background: This study compared the sun exposure and sun protection behaviours of adolescent students between 1993 and 1999.
Methods: Schools from all Australian states and the two territories participated in each of the 1993, 1996, and 1999 surveys and a sample of students from years 7 to 12 were surveyed. In each of the states and territories a random sample of schools was selected within each education sector (government, Catholic, independent). The questionnaire was a self-completed booklet with questions about sunburn history during the previous summer, tan preferences, skin-type, and usual reported behaviour. Data from a total of 78,032 students were available for analysis.
Results: From 1993 to 1999 there was a significant increase in the number of students reporting sunburn during the previous summer (chi(2) = 225.77, df = 2, P < 0.01). However, the percentage of students who preferred no tan at all increased over the same period (chi(2) = 184.47, df = 2, P < 0.01). The percentage of students who usually or always wore clothing that covered most of their body decreased between 1993 and 1999 (chi(2) = 20.46, df = 2, P < 0.01); the percentage of students usually or always wearing maximum protection sunscreen decreased over time (chi(2) = 27.71, df = 2, P < 0.01). Staying in the shade increased from 1993 (26%) to 1996 (32%) but decreased slightly in 1999 (30%). Across all survey years, only 11% of students routinely followed all three protective behaviours of wearing a hat, sunscreen, and clothes that cover the body.
Conclusions: Sun protection practices among adolescents are still below optimal levels. Future educational programs require innovative approaches that aims to change attitudes toward tanning as being healthy and attractive and modify adolescent behaviours in relation to sun exposure.