Media Information Gap Puts Outdoor Workers At Higher Risk: Survey
MINNEAPOLIS, August 25, 2010 – A significant gap in media coverage of outdoor workers’ sun exposure risks could increase the likelihood they will contract skin cancer because of a lack of available information about sun protection, according to a survey by SunAWARE, a Minneapolis non-profit sun protection education organization.
“Although media cover many important skin cancer topics thoroughly, there is a startling lack of media information provided to outdoor workers on their critical need to take sun protection precautions,” said SunAWARE executive director Mary Mills Barrow. The nation’s 9 million outdoor workers – construction workers, farmers, postal workers, landscapers and others - account for eight percent of the total workforce, according to the U.S. Census.
“Studies show that outdoor workers receive up to ten times as much UVR as other population groups and clearly are more likely contract skin cancer as indoor workers,” Barrow said. “Yet this survey, conducted at the start of the summer and during a period of extreme high heat, reveals that the media provided virtually no sun protection advice to this high risk population.”
“Skin cancer is at epidemic proportions in the United States, with more than 2.1 million people diagnosed with 3.5 million skin cancers annually. Not only do outdoor workers experience higher amounts of ultra-violet radiation but recent studies indicate that, as a group, they are the least likely to seek skin exams,” Barrow added.
The survey analyzed a total of 143 media stories about “heat stress,” “sun protection,” “skin cancer” and “outdoor workers” during the two week period from June 16 through June 30, 2010. Of the 143 stories analyzed, only two stories provided sun protection advice specifically for outdoor workers.
SunAWARE researchers reviewed the front page of Google News to identify stories in media outlets in 36 states including community-based newspapers and television stations, wire services, magazines, radio and 12 large internet news sites. Duplicates, irrelevant stories and international stories were not included in the survey analysis.
· Story Topics: The largest number of stories, 55 or 38% of the total, addressed the topic of “skin cancer.” Of these 27 provided general sun protection advice. Other subjects included tanning beds, skin cancer treatments, suspicious moles, and skin cancer risk factors. Some 33 stories about “heat stress” accounted for 23% of the total; 36 “sun protection” stories were 25% of the total. “Outdoor Workers” were a subject of 19 stories, or 13% of the total.
· Outdoor Workers: Only 19 stories in the two-week period, or 13% of the total, focused on outdoor workers. Of these, six were newspaper stories. The rest were television stories, typically man-on-the-street interviews with workers during a period of extreme heat. Of these, only one mentioned sun protection advice specifically for outdoor workers. The balance focused primarily on avoiding heat stress. Of the television stories analyzed, only two provided expert advice on heat stress for outdoor workers.
· Media Research: Of the 143 stories, 22 (15% of the total) were guest columns or reprints. The other stories cited a total of 269 sources, or an average of over two sources per story. “This average doesn’t reflect the number of stories where five, six or seven sources were citied,” Barrow said. “There is no doubt the media work hard to provide important sun related information to their communities.”
· Expert Sources: Sixty percent of the sources cited in these stories are experts, either from national organizations such as the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control, or at the local level such as community doctors, health departments, or other agencies. Other sources are man-on-the-street, cancer survivors, local parents or coaches. A small number of academic sources are quoted.
· Inaccurate Information: In almost one-quarter of skin cancer and sun protection stories (33 stories or 23% of the total) information was out of date, inaccurate or incomplete. A major omission was the focus on sunscreen as the primary defense against UVR without any mention of sun protective clothing which the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Pediatrics says is the first and best line of defense against UVR.
“This data suggests that while the media is aware of sun protection as a significant overall health issue—and work hard to serve their communities with sun protection and related advice—they are unaware of the specific information needs of outdoor workers,” Barrow said. “And this gap poses a broad and growing exposure risk to a segment of the workforce that is least prepared to protect themselves without outside prompting.”
SunAWARE, headquartered in Minneapolis, is a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) educational organization dedicated to the prevention and detection of skin cancer. Its website, http://www.sunaware.org, provides advice and free educational materials and resources for use by educators, advocates and the general public.
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