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Health Promot J Austr. 2012 Apr;23(1):52-7.

Does physical activity increase the risk of unsafe sun exposure?

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Population Epidemiology Unit, Preventative Health Directorate, Queensland Health, Brisbane.



Recent increases in the prevalence of self-reported participation in physical activity are encouraging and beneficial for health overall. However, the implications for sun safety need to be considered, particularly in Australia, which has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. This study investigated the relationship between physical activity and sunburn to determine if there is a need for integration of sun safety in physical activity promotion.


During the 2009/10 southern hemisphere summer, 7802 adults aged 18 to 74 years participated in a computer-assisted telephone interview survey which included a range of self-reported health measures including physical activity, sunburn, skin type, sun protection behaviour and demographic questions. Multivariate logistic regression modelling was undertaken to estimate the association between physical activity and sunburn.


Those who reported doing any level of physical activity were significantly more likely to report having experienced sunburn in the past 12 months and on the last weekend, compared with those who did none, with the strongest association among those who undertook 7 hours or more. Each hour of physical activity was associated with a modest increase in the odds of experiencing sunburn in the previous 12 months (OR 1.02, 95% CI 1.010-1.037) and weekend (OR 1.04, 95% CI: 1.023-1.065), after adjusting for potential confounding variables.


This study highlights the need for sun protection to be given more prominence in physical activity promotion in order to optimise health benefits without increasing the prevalence of sunburn and associated skin cancer risk.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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