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Original article

Vol. 142 No. 0708 (2012)

Sun protective behaviour of primary and secondary school students in North-Western Switzerland

  • Daphne Reinau
  • Christoph Meier
  • Nathalie Gerber
  • Günther F. L. Hofbauer
  • Christian Surber
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2012;142:w13520


BACKGROUND: The skin cancer incidence in Switzerland is one of the highest in Europe and still on the rise. Sun protection is the main preventive measure and of utmost importance during childhood and adolescence, since sunburns within these early phases of life increase the risk of developing skin cancer in adulthood.

OBJECTIVES: The aim of this prospective study, the first of its kind in Switzerland, was to investigate the sun protective behaviour of primary and secondary school students in Basel (North-Western Switzerland) and to test their knowledge about adverse health effects of solar radiation and about protective measures.

METHODS: Between March and April 2010, supervised classroom surveys during regular school lessons were conducted in 13 public schools using a multiple-choice questionnaire. 960 questionnaires were handed out to 48 school classes. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression analyses were performed on the data of 887 (>90%) students from three different grades (3rd, 6th and 9th grade).

RESULTS: Sun-related knowledge was high in one third of all respondents only and significantly depended on student’s age and educational background. Although the oldest students reached the highest knowledge scores, they protected themselves the least from the sun. Sunscreen was the principal form of sun protection mentioned, but was insufficiently applied. Seeking shade and wearing clothing as protective measures were hardly used. High educational background (i.e., of the parents) was a determinant for routine use of sunscreen but was not associated with following other sun protective measures. The desire for a suntan had no impact on the use of sunscreen, but was a significant predictor for not seeking shade and wearing shoulderless shirts when in the sun. More than half of all study participants experienced at least one sunburn during the year preceding the survey. Fair skin type, higher grade, not seeking shade and wearing shoulderless shirts were directly associated with increased odds of sunburn. No association was found for the use of sunscreen and the occurrence of sunburn.

CONCLUSIONS: In order to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in Switzerland, it is essential to improve children’s and adolescents’ sun protective behaviour. Future skin cancer prevention campaigns should teach proper use of sunscreen, and emphasise the value of wearing clothing and seeking shade as the most effective sun protection. Furthermore, major efforts are needed to change adolescents’ attitude towards a suntan.


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