Trends in sun exposure knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors: 1986 to 1996

J Am Acad Dermatol. 1997 Aug;37(2 Pt 1):179-86. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(97)80122-3.


Background: The American Academy of Dermatology's national program Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention, developed in response to the rising incidence of invasive melanoma in the United States, has annually during the past decade produced extensive print, radio, and television coverage about the dangers of sun exposure and benefits of sun protection.

Objective: We measured the progress achieved in increasing the awareness and knowledge of skin cancer and changing the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that affect skin cancer risk. We also describe current sun-related behavior including sunburning, assess the likelihood of practicing sun protection strategies, and provide a baseline against which future changes in sun protection behavior may be evaluated.

Methods: A 1996 telephone survey repeated questions used in 1986 to evaluate change and used classifying questions to better define attitudes and behaviors.

Results: From 1986 to 1996, the knowledge of the perceived harmful effects of the sun significantly broadened, but the UV exposure behavior as measured by sunburning (30% to 39%) and regular use of a tanning booth (2% to 6%) also increased. There was a decline in the attitude that having a tan was healthy; however, in 1996 having a tan was still considered to enhance appearance, particularly by men. Sunscreen use increased (35% to 53%). Women, younger persons, persons residing in areas with fewer sunny days, and whites were more likely to tan intentionally, but men who lived in the South were more likely to sunburn.

Conclusion: During the past decade, the early process of change involving cognitive and emotional activities began. With this study, high-risk population subsets performing specific adverse behavior were identified. In the future, they can be targeted with messages that promote attitudinal and behavioral change.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / prevention & control
  • Melanoma / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Skin Aging
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Skin Neoplasms / psychology
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sunburn / prevention & control*
  • Sunburn / psychology
  • Sunlight / adverse effects*
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • United States


  • Sunscreening Agents