More than half of secondary school students are willing to put themselves at risk of skin cancer for the sake of a tan – despite knowing the risks.
New data from the Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey shows 64% of Victorian students still like to get a suntan, and 42% had attempted to tan their skin over the previous summer.
Despite this, 72% disagreed with the statement ‘the benefits of a suntan outweigh the risks’.
In other findings:
- Female students, those living in affluent areas and students with skin that developed a tan easily (with or without burning first) were more likely to prefer a tan;
- Students were less likely to prefer a tan if they recalled more than one lesson about skin cancer or sun protection at school.
SunSmart Manager Heather Walker said tanning was a sign skin cells had been damaged by UV rays.
“While the signs of a suntan fade, the UV damage can’t be undone and will increase the risk of skin cancer in later life,” Ms Walker said.
“It’s worrying that many Victorian students are still willing to take this risk. Now that students are back in class for 2017, schools are in an ideal position to provide education about healthy lifestyles and the dangers of tanning. Parents can also support this by discouraging tanning and role-modelling SunSmart practices at home.”
Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan said it was important to understand there’s no right or wrong when it comes to weight, shape, size and appearance.
“Encouraging our young people to be comfortable with the skin that they’re in will help to ensure that they are less likely to feel impacted by unrealistic images in the media and societal pressures to look a certain way, and help prevent them from engaging in dangerous practices, like putting themselves at the risk of developing skin cancer for the sake of a tan,” Ms Morgan said.
“We have the power to change the way we see, feel and think about our bodies, and beginning with education about the risks of sun tanning is a great step forward.”
In Australia, two in three people will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer by the age of 70. For young Australians, melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the 15-29 year old age group.
Ms Walker encouraged Victorian students to cut their cancer risk by avoiding tanning.
“There’s nothing healthy about a suntan, which is why we encourage everyone to embrace the skin you were born in,” Ms Walker said.
“We urge all Victorians to use clothing, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and shade to look after your skin and prevent UV damage.”
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About the data
The 2014 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) survey is a national survey of secondary school student use of licit and illicit substances, sun protection behaviours and attitudes. The survey collected responses from 3,425 Victorian students aged 12 to 17 years about sun protection.