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SUMMER HEALTH

What's New Under the Sun? Don't be Misinformed

July 05, 1999

A new national survey concludes that many Americans are poorly informed about sun protection issues.

The poll by Discovery Health Media, a Bethesda, Md.-based media company, found that two out of three Americans recognized the high mortality rate associated with skin cancer, but a large majority remain misinformed about how to protect themselves and their families.

For example, while health professionals generally agree that children younger than 6 months should not ever be exposed to the sun's harmful rays, more than 70% of those surveyed believe it is possible to protect infants from harmful sun exposure with sunscreen.

The study found that 62% of those polled believed, incorrectly, that lighter-colored clothing offered the best protection from the sun.

Also, more than half of those polled believed, again mistakenly, that a sunscreen with SPF 30 would offer twice as much protection as one containing SPF 15. In fact, 96% to 97% of sunburning rays are absorbed with SPF 30, while the figure for SPF 15 is 92% to 93%.

The poll was conducted for Discovery Health by the research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland, based in Washington, D.C.

A new Internet health site developed by Discovery Health (http://www.discoveryhealth.com) includes a quiz to help people test their awareness of sun protection issues. The quiz was prepared with information from the American Cancer Society, the American Medical Assn. and the American Academy of Dermatology, according to Discovery Health.

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Here are a few sample true-or-false questions from the quiz:

Questions:

1. For anyone who has ever had a sunburn--that is, anyone who has the potential to burn--sunscreen with a minimum SPF, or sun protection factor, of 15 should be used year-round. True or False?

2. Darker-skinned people who "never burn" can use sunscreens that have a lower SPF rating.

3. A person doesn't have to worry about using sunscreen when he or she is under an umbrella.

4. In the United States, someone dies from skin cancer every hour.

5. A person is at greater risk of sunburn while on the beach in Florida in August than they are on the ski slopes of Colorado in December.

Answers:

1. True. People are exposed to the harmful effects of sun exposure at all times of the year. A minimum of SPF 15 is recommended to protect people from the harmful effects of sun exposure.

2. False. Dark-skinned people are less likely to get skin cancer than lighter-skinned people, but they are not immune to the harmful effects of sun exposure (protected by SPF of at least 15) and do develop skin cancer, albeit at a lower rate.

3. False. The harmful effects of the sun reach into the shade through reflection and other means. The general rule is that if your shadow is shorter than you, then you are being exposed to the sun's rays.

4. True. There were more than 9,000 deaths attributable to skin cancer in 1998.

5. False. People are at risk year-round and actually can be at greater risk when there is snow because it reflects 80% of all sun rays.

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