Life on the beach: The knowledge, behaviours and attitudes of Australian surf lifesavers towards sun protection

Introduction: Australian Surf Lifesavers are at the forefront of Australia’s beach culture. They serve as an example to the general public in regards to surf safety but also sun protection behaviors at the beach. The aim of this study was to evaluate the knowledge, attitudes and behaviors of Australian Surf Lifesavers.
Method: A multicentre, cross-sectional study using a population based survey of 252 respondents was undertaken in conjunction with Surf Lifesaving NSW and Surf Lifesaving Tasmania during the summer of 2015/2016.
Results: Of the lifesavers who participate in competitions, 85% had been sunburned whilst competing. Of the patrolling members surveyed, 54% had been sunburned in the most recent season with 8% sunburned more than 6 times that season. Lifesavers with a personal history of skin cancer had higher odds of being burned more than 6 times in a patrol season (p<0.05). In terms of age, lifesavers aged 31-40 (p<0.05), 41-50 (p<0.01) and 50+ (p<0.01) were less likely to be burned in the previous 12months than those aged <20, with those odds increasing for each increase in age group. A large proportion of respondents (39%) were not aware of Surf Lifesaving Australia’s Sun Safety Policy, with 85% not being aware of any sun protection campaigns endorsed by their club. This is despite all club’s endorsement of several sun protection campaigns throughout Australia.
Conclusion: This study highlights a lack of adequate sun protection knowledge and behaviors among the high risk, and publicly visible population of surf lifesavers in Australia.

Dr. Jessica Davey