Background: Skin cancer prevention emphasizes early adoption and practice of sun protection behaviors. Adolescence represents a high-risk period for ultraviolet radiation exposure, presenting an opportunity for intervention. The ubiquity of mobile phones among teens offers an engaging medium through which to communicate prevention messages.
Purpose: To evaluate a skin cancer prevention intervention using short messaging service (SMS, or text messages) to impact sun-related knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors among adolescents.
Methods: The intervention was conducted in middle school youth (N1⁄4113) recruited in April or October 2012. Participants were English speakers, 11–14 years old, routinely carried a mobile phone, and completed a 55-minute sun safety education program. Participants were sent three sun safety– themed SMS messages each week for 12 weeks. Skin and sun protective knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and post-intervention program satisfaction were collected and analyzed at baseline and end of intervention (April/June 2012; October 2012/January 2013). Paired responses were tested for equality using Wilcoxon signed-rank tests.
Results: Ninety-six students (85%) completed the study. At 12 weeks, significant positive changes were reported for sun avoidance during peak ultraviolet radiation, sunscreen application, wearing hats and sunglasses, and knowledge about skin cancer risk. Participants expressed moderately high satisfaction with the program, and 15% shared messages with family or friends.
Conclusions: A brief, SMS-based intervention affected youth skin cancer prevention behaviors and knowledge. Future research will determine whether program effects were sustained at 24 weeks and explore how sun safety parenting practices inform these effects.