As Latinos acculturate into the U.S. population and lifestyle, the extent to which they protect themselves from sun exposure declines, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health and led by Valentina Andreeva, a research assistant at the Keck School’s Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research.
Andreeva and researchers from both USC and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) analyzed the sun-protection habits of nearly 500 Latinos, as reported in the 2005 Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) administered by the NCI. This included their propensity to use sunscreen, wear protective clothing or seek shade when outside on warm, sunny days.
Depending on the extent of their acculturation—i.e., their length of time in the country and familiarity with the English language—those ranked high in acculturation were less likely to take steps to protect themselves from sun exposure. This, Andreeva said, could be a contributing factor in the growing incidences of melanoma among Latinos in this country.
“Sun-safe behaviors appear similar to other health behaviors which decrease with increasing acculturation,” she said. Latinos who are more acculturated, for example, are at greater risk for substance abuse, certain types of cancer and poor eating habits.
This was the first study to document how acculturation influences Latinos’ sun-safe behaviors and skin cancer risks. Among the other findings from the study were observations that Latinas were more inclined to use sunscreen and seek shade than Latinos, who were more likely to use protective clothing.
Age and education also play roles, as those who were younger or had higher education levels were also more likely to use sunscreen.
Though Andreeva acknowledges the small sample size as a limitation, she said that the findings could help in developing more effective messages to U.S. Latino populations when it comes to protecting themselves from sun exposure.
“Sun safety messages for less acculturated Latinos could use informal, inexpensive, Spanish-language strategies reinforcing existing sun-safe behaviors,” she said. “Initiatives for highly acculturated Latinos could be similar to those targeted at the general U.S. population and the goal would be behavior modification.”
The study was part of Andreeva’s dissertation research and was done in collaboration with Jennifer Unger, Amy Yaroch, Myles Cockburn and Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati with the Keck Institute as well as with NCI researchers from the NIH.