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Monitoring Risk & Health Behaviors

Sun Exposure

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is known to be the leading cause of skin cancer, the most common type of cancer in the US. Some groups are more susceptible to the sun's damaging rays than are others, depending on their skin type and where they live. Consequently, it is important to monitor the population's sun exposure as well as their behaviors for avoiding it, especially among at-risk groups. As some of the effects of UV exposure are cumulative and childhood and adolescent exposures are especially sensitive periods, lifetime exposure is an important aspect, as are periods of acute intermittent exposure.

The Risk Factor Monitoring and Methods Branch monitors behaviors related to sun exposure by adding questions to existing surveys of adults, such as the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Cancer Control Supplement and the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). We also include questions in surveys of children and adolescents, such as the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (ADD HEALTH)External Web Site Policy and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), and in surveys of adults such as the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS). Questions in these surveys ask about skin type, number of sunburns, and behaviors to protect against sun exposure, such as:

  • using sunscreen;
  • wearing protective clothing; and
  • seeking shade when outdoors on a warm sunny day.

Beginning in 2005, we have added questions to the NHIS Cancer Control Supplement on indoor tanning use.

All of these behaviors are mentioned in the Healthy People 2020 objective related to sun protection.

This section is being updated with current information on sun protection and indoor tanning habits of adults and teens from the most recent 2010 national survey data (2010 NHIS-CCS). Meanwhile, please see the Sun Protection Chapter in the Cancer Prevention Section of the Cancer Trends Progress Report 2011/2012 Update.

Last Modified: 11 Apr 2014