Smartest Are Most Often Dumb About Sunburns

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Smart people may not be so smart after all when it comes to protecting themselves against skin cancer. A new study has found that people with more education get the most sunburns, which increase the risk of skin cancer.

"Sunburns are dangerous, and everyone should take proper measures to protect against them," said Joel M. Gelfand of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who led the study.

Gelfand and his colleagues studied data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about a random sample of 207,776 Americans 18 and older who were surveyed in 2003.

The analysis found that 39 percent had developed at least one sunburn in the previous 12 months, a 22 percent increase since 1999, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. The percentage rose dramatically as respondents' income and education levels increased and their age decreased.

Those 18 to 24 were the most likely to have let their guard down in the sun, with 61 percent reporting they developed a sunburn. Those with the highest incomes -- equal to or greater than $50,000 -- were more likely to report getting a sunburn than those in the lowest income strata -- less than $20,000 -- 47 percent vs. 28 percent. And those with a college degree reported a higher incidence of sunburn than those without a high school degree -- 43 percent vs. 25 percent.

"The increased number of sunburns among people with the highest incomes could be attributed to their ability to travel to tropical destinations more often than those with lower incomes," Gelfand said, adding: "As we know, people shouldn't take a break from practicing proper sun protection just because they are on vacation."

In addition, the researchers found that binge drinkers were also more likely to get sunburns.

-- Rob Stein

© 2006 The Washington Post Company