The incidence of melanoma continues to increase in many countries, and primary prevention of melanoma includes avoidance of sunburn as well as adequate sun protection behaviour. The aim of this study was to examine the prevalence of self-reported sun protection behaviours and sunburn in users of the Internet, and to identify the demographic, clinical and attitudinal/motivational correlates of sun protection behaviours.
Self-report data were gathered on behalf of GenoMEL (www.genomel.org) using an online survey available in 10 different languages, and 8,178 individuals successfully completed at least 80% of survey items, with 73% of respondents from Europe, 12% from Australia, 7% from the USA, 2% from Israel, and 6% from other countries.
Half of all respondents and 27% of those with a previous melanoma reported at least one severe sunburn during the previous 12 months. The strongest factors associated with sun protection behaviour were perceived barriers to protection (β=−0.44/β=−0.37), and respondents who reported a positive attitude towards suntans were less likely to protect (β=−0.16/β=−0.14). Reported use of protective clothing and shade, as well as avoidance of midday sun exposure, were more strongly related to reduced risk of sunburn than sunscreen use.
Despite widespread dissemination of public health messages about the importance of sun protection, a substantial proportion of this international sample, including respondents with a previous melanoma, reported inadequate sun protection behaviours resulting in severe sunburn.
Future strategies to decrease sunburn should target the practical, social and psychological barriers associated with non-uptake of sun protection.