Young people spend most time in sun with least protection

10 July 2008

Toronto -

Young people are spending the most time in the sun and are least likely to be protected from overexposure to the sun, according to a national survey funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.

“These results are disheartening. Skin cancer incidence rates continue to rise in Canada, including among young adults,” says Dr. Loraine Marrett, lead researcher of the survey and a senior scientist at Cancer Care Ontario. “Overexposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight and tanning equipment puts young people at increased risk for skin cancer now, as well as increasing their risk for cancer in later years.”

Marrett, Director of Surveillance, Cancer Care Ontario, adds that the thinning of the protective layer of ozone around the earth means it is more important than ever that all Canadians protect themselves from overexposure to the sun.

Outdoor exposure

Among young adults (16-24 years of age):

  • close to 50 per cent of young men and 32 per cent of young women spend at least two hours in the sun on a typical summer day;
  • 42 per cent of young men and 58 per cent of young women protect themselves from overexposure to the sun – much lower than in older populations.

Among children (six to 12 years of age):

  • 66 per cent of males and 59 per cent of females spend at least two hours in the sun on a typical summer day;
  • 74 per cent of males and 78 per cent of females are protected from overexposure to the sun – while reasonably high, this percentage is much lower than in younger children (one to five years of age).


The survey results also show that young adults are the most likely to try and get a tan – either from the sun or by using tanning equipment.

  •  49 per cent of young women and 28 per cent of young men actively try to get a tan from the sun.
  • 27 per cent of young women use tanning equipment, which is higher than use among young men or older adults.

The good news from the survey is that sun safety messages are definitely getting through to some populations. Most Canadian adults 65 and older are practising very effective sun safety and parents are doing a good job of protecting children one to five years of age.

“The survey findings will be extremely valuable in helping to target sun safety awareness to the groups who need it the most,” says Heather Chappell, Senior Manager, Cancer Control Policy, Canadian Cancer Society. “Specifically, more needs to be done with young adults and older children.”

Both Marrett and Chappell acknowledge that sun exposure in moderation can have health benefits. For example, it enables people to make vitamin D, which is essential for good health.

“We caution Canadians about spending too much unprotected time in the sun to get vitamin D,” says Chappell. “A few minutes a day is usually enough to get sufficient levels. People over 50 years of age and those with darker skin may want to consider taking a supplement as well. We encourage people to discuss this with their healthcare providers.”

Chappell adds that the Canadian Cancer Society will be reviewing the survey findings in detail and will update, refine or develop sun safety information for print material and web postings ( as appropriate.  Until this is done, she encourages Canadians to protect themselves from overexposure to the sun particularly between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their strongest or anytime of the day the UV Index™ is three or more.

Rose’s story

As a young woman of 23, cancer was the last thing on Rose Tanyi’s mind when she had a mole checked on her cheek after a year of watching it grow. “I was shocked to get the diagnosis of melanoma,” says Rose. “I thought I’m too young, how could this happen?” Surgery successfully removed the cancer and she was on a three-year drug regime afterwards to help prevent a recurrence. Today, at 36 years of age, she is cancer-free and working as a volunteer coordinator at a food bank.

While never a sun worshipper, Rose says that before her diagnosis she didn’t use sun screen or think much about protecting herself from the sun. “Of course, I think about it a lot more now,” she says. “I stay out of the sun during peak times when I can, wear a hat and use sunscreen.”

Her advice to young people: “I strongly urge young people to watch out for their health and to be aware of the dangers of too much unprotected time in the sun. As a young person, you sometimes think that things can’t touch you, but they can.”

Rose is also a Canadian Cancer Society volunteer – offering support to people with cancer through the Society’s CancerConnection program. “I wanted to help others going through the same thing.”

“Understanding the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians towards sun safety is vital to developing more effective public health and cancer prevention programs,” says Jessica Hill, Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, an independent organization funded by the federal government to accelerate action on cancer control. “The broader solution will involve many partners from health promotion, school boards, clothing retailers, and even city planning to offer families recreational choices that provide shade. This survey is an important step in identifying ways to work collaboratively to manage cancer risk factors.”

“While the incidence of skin cancer has been increasing in Canada, it’s important to remember that most cases of skin cancer are preventable,” says Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler-Jones. “This year, the Government of Canada expanded its child and youth-focused Sun Awareness Program to reach children, caregivers and educators in day-care and preschool centres. We encourage all Canadians to take the simple but important steps needed to keep their skin healthy and reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.”

The National Sun Survey was carried out across Canada in 2006. More than 7,000 adults (16 years and older) were surveyed about:

  • time they spent in the sun, tanning, and sunburns;
  • how they protect themselves from overexposure to the sun;
  • their knowledge, attitudes and behaviours about tanning, sun exposure, and sun protection.

Parents with children aged 1-12 (about 1,400) were also asked to report about time in the sun, sun protection and sunburns for one of their children.

The purpose of the survey is to provide health groups and policymakers with information to assist in developing effective programs to help minimize people’s overexposure to ultraviolet radiation.

The Canadian Cancer Society is the primary funder of the survey. The Public Health Agency of Canada a ( provided additional funding.

Production of the National Sun Survey was made possible, in part, through support from the National Skin Cancer Prevention Committee of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, an independent organization funded by the federal government through Health Canada.

Information on skin cancer can be found on the Health Canada website, It’s Your Health ( ).  Educational resource materials for schools can be acquired through Health Canada’s UV Index Sun Awareness Program at . 

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community based organization whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. Last year, the Society funded $49.5 million in leading-edge research projects across the country. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website at or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.


For more information, please contact:

Christine Harminc

Senior Manager, Communications & Media Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Phone: 416 934-5340