International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 157–166 | Cite as

Assessing population-wide behaviour change: concordance of 10-year trends in self-reported and observed sun protection

  • Suzanne J. DobbinsonEmail author
  • Kris Jamsen
  • Helen G. Dixon
  • Matthew J. Spittal
  • Magdalena Lagerlund
  • John E. Lipscomb
  • Natalie L. Herd
  • Melanie A. Wakefield
  • David J. Hill
Original Article



Increases in socially desirable responses in self-reports might occur in the context of ongoing public education. We examine concordance of trends in two long-term studies monitoring population impact for SunSmart.


One study employed telephone interviews of Melbourne residents; the other entailed observations at public recreation venues across Melbourne. The studies assessed people’s sun protection on identical weekend dates (Nw = 33 dates). Data from five summers between 1992 and 2001 (n ~ 23,000 individuals) were analysed. A body cover index score was calculated for participants on each date. Outcomes were aggregated separately for Saturdays and Sundays by date and year. Regression analyses tested whether these trends differed by survey method.


The pattern of change in body cover over time was similar for both surveys. Self-reported body cover was consistently higher than observed body cover, suggesting that social desirability bias may be present. Regression analyses showed no divergence between self-reported and observed trends in mean body cover, suggesting no evidence of significant increased social desirability bias in self-reporting over time.


Findings suggest that self-report offers a valid means of assessing change in a population’s sun protection compliance over time, at least when self-reports are precisely focussed for time and activity context.


Validity Observational measures Self-report Sun protection Behaviours 



We thank the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and Cancer Council Victoria for funding support, the Bureau of Meteorology for provision of records of weather conditions, the many research assistants and data managers who contributed to the data collection, Professor Mohammad Siahpush for advice on the statistical analyses.


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Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Suzanne J. Dobbinson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kris Jamsen
    • 2
  • Helen G. Dixon
    • 1
  • Matthew J. Spittal
    • 1
    • 2
  • Magdalena Lagerlund
    • 1
  • John E. Lipscomb
    • 1
  • Natalie L. Herd
    • 1
  • Melanie A. Wakefield
    • 1
  • David J. Hill
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer, Cancer Council Victoria MelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.The University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

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