In collaboration with Cancer Council WA, WACPRU recently completed a longitudinal analysis of Western Australians’ sun protection behaviours. Over a five year period (2007/08 to 2011/12), more than 2000 adults reported how often they engage in specific sun protection actions including wearing a hat, wearing protective clothing, applying sunscreen, and using sunglasses. They were also asked to nominate which sun protection strategy they thought would be most effective in protecting their skin from the sun. The results showed increasing sunscreen use over time and consistently high usage levels of sunglasses. Around two-thirds of respondents nominated sunscreen as the most effective skin-protection strategy. Although current evidence suggests that wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade are the most efficacious strategies when outside in the middle of the day, reported participation in these activities did not improve over time. These results suggest that the sunscreen message is being heard, understood, and enacted, but this may be at the expense of other, potentially more effective, sun protection strategies.
There are practical implications of these results. In the first instance, it may be time for health promotion campaigns to focus on sun protection strategies other than (or in addition to) sunscreen to ensure Australians understand the need for a multi-pronged approach to being SunSmart. Second, while ‘no hat, no play’ and standard uniform policies in schools can increase sun protection among children, there is a need to translate these outcomes among the adult population. Creative strategies are required to make wearing hats and other protective clothing desirable and comfortable for adults.
The results of this study have been reported in the Journal of Cancer Education and the Australasian Journal of Dermatology.
Historically, if we wanted to know what Australians think and do about cancer prevention, we could just use the White Pages to select random telephone numbers and call people at home. Today things are much more complicated. Many people do not own a landline, and those who do often screen their calls with an answering machine. This makes it very difficult to access the random samples required for valid and reliable statistical analysis. There are various other options available, such as using web panels to survey people who have registered as being interested in completing surveys for small monetary incentives. WACPRU and Cancer Council WA ran an experiment to assess whether those individuals responding to a telephone survey provide different responses to those responding to an online survey delivered via a web panel. The results, published in the Journal of Public Health, showed that where there were differences between the samples, the online respondents tended to report more favourable outcomes (e.g. awareness of a health campaign and subsequent behavioural improvements). This suggests that rather than migrating entirely to online samples, it may be prudent to combine telephone and online data collection methods to minimise losses in data comparability over time.