Social media to sell slip, slop, slap message

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There’s no such thing as a healthy glow, yet many young women still believe brown is best.

“A major reason young people, especially young women, overexpose themselves to the sun is because they think the browner their skin looks, the more attractive they are,” Flinders University Professor Carlene Wilson said.

“The sun safe message that if you get burnt you could get skin cancer doesn’t seem to work with young women because they’re so focused on their appearance – the short-term need to look good vastly outweighs the long-term need to avoid sun exposure,” she said.

Professor Wilson, the Cancer Council South Australia Chair in Cancer Prevention (Behavioural Science), has just been awarded seed funding from the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer to investigate ways to change young women’s attitudes and behaviours towards tanning.

Depending on the success of a grant application with the National Health and Medical Research Council, the pilot study will form part of a larger research project to test the success of three different sun safe interventions delivered via Facebook.

The interventions include face ageing software that shows the changes to your face as you get older, including the lifestyle effects of smoking, obesity and sun exposure.

The second intervention, Dear 16-Year-Old Me, is a confronting YouTube video of melanoma survivors or victims’ families as they talk to their 16-year-old self while the third intervention is a basic knowledge scale that tells people their individual susceptibility to melanoma.

“Young people spend a lot of time on Facebook sharing pictures, videos and jokes,” Professor Wilson said.

“We also know young people don’t change their behaviours, we know they’re focused on their appearance and that they don’t understand the long-term consequences of sun exposure so we think these three different approaches, delivered through Facebook, will be a salient way of reaching out to young people and getting them to change their attitudes towards sun exposure.”

The study, to be undertaken in partnership with Flinders Postdoctoral Research Fellows (Cancer Prevention) Dr Ivanka Prichard and Dr Amanda Hutchinson, also seeks to determine whether one intervention is more effective than the others, based on how well they are shared, or ‘liked’ across Facebook.

Professor Wilson said UV exposure significantly increased the risk of skin cancer, yet it could largely be prevented by behavioural change.

“We’re not concerned so much about children because we have lots of slip, slop, slap education in schools but it’s when they reach the teenage years and early adulthood that the problems begin.

“That’s when the long-sleeved T-shirts and hats come off, especially when you’re an image-conscious young woman.

“But hopefully we can reach out to these young women and help them to realise that having brown skin could eventually kill them.”

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