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Scholar discusses communicating skier sun safety

Renowned communication scholar Peter Andersen spoke about his research for the Go Sun Smart Campaign: 15 Years of Fighting Skin Cancer on Ski Slopes at Emerson’s Bill Bordy Theater Monday night. The ongoing Sun Smart campaign investigates the use of communication interventions to prevent the growing epidemic of skin cancer in North America.

Peter Andersen discussed his Go Smart Sun Campaign during Communication Week 2012.

Andersen, a San Diego State University professor, is one of the six researchers in charge of the program. He’s also a skin cancer survivor and avid skier. He said he began to wonder how skiing and skin cancer were related when he returned from a ski trip in 1996 badly sunburned. Andersen and his research partners turned that question into a federally funded multimillion-dollar project at 28 ski areas throughout the United States and Canada.

The Sun Smart campaign focuses specifically on increasing sun safety for skiers. Wearing sunscreen is counter-intuitive for most people in the winter, Andersen pointed out, because sunburns are associated with hot weather. However, sun safety is especially crucial when skiing because of the reflectivity of snow and the increase in UV radiation at higher altitudes.

The campaign uses health communication advertisements targeted at ski resort employees and guests. “All advertisements are not created equal,” Andersen explained. If an ad scares you, it’s likely to change your attitude and action, he noted. But fear appeals are also less likely to be processed because of selective attention and recall.

Therefore, the Go Smart Sun campaign uses largely soft fear appeals. The main goal is to provide skiers with information about ways to protect their skin from the sun. The posters made it simple: wear sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and lip balm.

The Go Sun Smart campaign has been one of the most exciting and difficult projects of his life, Andersen said. “We’ve probably saved a couple hundred lives with our program, which is no small feat.”

The study is now in its third phase. Andersen and his colleagues are returning to the ski resorts to do follow-up surveys and further gauge what kind of effects the Go Sun Smart campaign has had.

There were more than one million cases of skin cancer in 2010, and 8,650 people died from skin cancer. It is the most common form of cancer in the United States and the leading cause of death in women ages 18–30.

The event was sponsored by the joint MA Health Communication program at Emerson and Tufts University. It was part of Communication Week 2012.

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