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Half of children ditch the suncream at secondary school 'because they want a tan'

Protection: Sun damage at a young age has been linked to a heightened risk of melanoma

Protection: Sun damage at a young age has been linked to a heightened risk of melanoma

Children starting secondary school start to yearn for a golden tan at the same time as their parents hand over the task of applying their own suncream, a survey has found.

The worrying trend could raise the risk of teenagers developing deadly skin cancer later on in life.

Researchers from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, followed 360 ten to 11-year-olds in Massachusetts.

They asked them how much time they spent in the sun, how often they used sun protection and their attitudes about
tanning.

When they surveyed them again three years later they found that suncream use had fallen by half among the students.

It is of particular concern as sun damage at a young age has been linked to a heightened risk of melanoma.

The scientists said young teenagers faced a barrage of media images that equated a tan with looking healthy, even though it is an early warning sign of skin damage.

'I think especially at this age, and in
general, there are a lot of forces that promote tanning,' said lead author Dr Stephen
Dusza.

Although Dr Dusza said
he expected that children would want to tan more as they grew older, due
partly to advertising and tanning among many celebrities, the results
surprised him.

'I was struck by the magnitude of the reduction in the use of sunscreen – a 50 percent drop,' he said.

Only one in four of the eighth graders (UK Year 9) said
they used sunscreen when they were outside for more than six hours,
which was half as many who said they used sunscreen in fifth
grade (UK Year 6).

Four out of 10 of the children also went outside
just to get a tan when they were in eighth grade, compared to two out of
10 when they were in fifth grade.

But despite the children
spending more time outside trying to get a tan as they grew older, the
number who got sunburned remained the same at about 50
per cent.

Dr Dusza said he wasn't certain why sunburns didn't
increase, but thought that maybe children defined a sunburn differently
as they got older, or perhaps their outdoor activities changed.

Dr Sophie Balk, at the
Children's Hospital at Montefiore In New York, said the
study, published in the journal Pediatrics, underlined the fact that many young people aren't protecting
their skin.

'Kids
think looking tan is consistent with looking healthy, but it's the
opposite. A tan is the body's response to UV exposure and shows there's
been damage to the skin,' she said.

'We need
more media messages, more role models, more public health campaigns. As a
society we could be doing more to promote skin cancer prevention and
skin protection.'

The number of melanoma cases in the
United States has been rising for the past three decades, and around
70,230 new cases will be diagnosed this year, according to the American
Cancer Society.

In 2008 around 11,770 new cases of malignant melanoma were diagnosed in the UK.

Melanoma is a serious form of skin as it can spread to other parts of the body. If diagnosed and treated early the outlook is good but the chances of being cured are low if diagnosed at a late stage.