The Journal of Primary Prevention

, Volume 39, Issue 4, pp 371–386 | Cite as

“We Don’t Really Do Anything Unless it’s Really Bad”: Understanding Adolescent Sun Protective Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviors in the U.S.

  • Arissa R. Fitch-MartinEmail author
  • Lauren M. Menger
  • Amber D. Loomis
  • Lauren E. S. Hartsough
  • Kim L. Henry
Original Paper


Risk factors for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, include lifetime sun exposure and a history of sunburns. However, a minority of adolescents report consistent engagement in sun protective behaviors. The few sun protection interventions that have targeted adolescents have had little effect on behavior change, which suggests that a better understanding of the issue, especially from the adolescents’ perspective, is needed. Although efforts to qualitatively examine adolescent sun protection have been carried out in a handful of countries, no studies to date have focused on U.S. adolescents. We conducted focus groups with 44 6th–8th grade students in Colorado to explore their sun protection knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. Results supported previous findings that adolescents do not engage in regular skin protection but have experienced the negative consequences of sun exposure (e.g., severe sun burns, and blistering). In addition, participants demonstrated limited and sometimes inaccurate knowledge about the long-term risks of sun exposure, as well as effective methods of sun protection. Barriers to engaging in sun protective behaviors included a desire to tan, inconvenience, and physical discomfort. Facilitators included peer and family encouragement, previous experience with sunburns and/or skin cancer, and knowledge of potential consequences. These findings provide valuable insights that can inform future intervention and research related to sun protection among U.S. adolescents.


Sun protection Adolescents Melanoma prevention Qualitative research 



This research was made possible through the support of the Dennis Coakley Memorial Foundation.

Compliance With Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Standard

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Arissa R. Fitch-Martin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lauren M. Menger
    • 1
  • Amber D. Loomis
    • 1
  • Lauren E. S. Hartsough
    • 1
  • Kim L. Henry
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology Mail Stop 1876Colorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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