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Age and Socioeconomic Factors Are Strongest Determinants of Sunburn

Despite repeated health warnings about the dangers of sun exposure that are backed by research proving that as few as five sunburns doubles a person's risk of developing skin// cancer, Americans are still getting sunburned.

A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology reported that 39 percent of respondents of a national survey conducted in 2003 had at least one sunburn in the previous 12 months, a 22 percent increase since 1999. However, this percentage rose dramatically as income and education levels increased and the age of respondents decreased.

Dermatologist Joel M. Gelfand, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadephia and co-author of the report "The epidemiology of sunburn in the U.S. population in 2003," studied the prevalence of and risk factors for sunburn in the United States using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) 2003 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS). A random sample of 207,776 respondents aged 18 or older provided data for the population-based survey, with the main outcome measure being any report of sunburn within the last 12 months. The variables which predicted sunburn included sex, age, income, education, employment status, race, recent physician care, and behavior factors such as drinking and smoking.

The study found that sunburn prevalence was greatest in respondents 18 to 24 years old, with 61 percent reporting at least one sunburn in the past year. When income and educational levels were examined, the study showed that individuals in the highest income strata (equal to or greater than $50,000) were more likely to report sunburn than those in the lowest income strata (less than $20,000) – 47 percent vs. 28 percent, respectively. In addition, respondents with a college degree reported a higher sunburn incidence than those without a high school degree – 43 percent vs. 25 percent, respectively.


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