We Are Sunshine

Did Authors of Colorado Study Overstate Their Results?

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Authors of a University of Colorado study ignored very obvious confounding information in promoting a study this week that appears to be designed solely to scare families out of taking sun-drenched vacations.

2009-02-06-bogus-finding-tanningnews-copy.jpgThe study suggested that children who take water-themed vacations with their parents have more moles than those who don’t — a finding the authors say means sunny vacations put the kids at higher risk for skin damage later in life.

“The results are startling enough that study author Lori Crane, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health, is advising parents to rethink sun-soaked vacations for children,” The Denver Post reported this week. The Post quoted Crane, chairwoman of the department of community and behavioral health, as saying, “I’m not sure how much they appreciate an expensive trip. The kids would enjoy being with their grandparents for a week.”

The study of 681 white children in Colorado alleged that “for each water-themed vacation, kids had 5 percent more moles — raising the risk for skin cancer later in life.” the Post reported.

The problem with the study: The results weren’t any different whether the kids wore sunscreen or didn’t wear sunscreen on vacation.

“The same data could be used to write a paper saying that sunscreen doesn’t protect children from sun damage, and that would be just as ridiculous an assertion given that the correlation in this paper has very little to do with establishing a causative mechanism for skin damage,” Smart Tan Vice President Joseph Levy said.

The promotion of the study seems very predisposed toward pimping for sunscreen usage.

“Dr. Martin A. Weinstock, a Brown University dermatology professor who was not involved in the study, said the new research reinforces evidence that intense ultraviolet exposure leads to skin damage,” the Post reported. “Sunscreen, he said, is the most practical solution on a beach vacation. ‘They can take their child on vacation, they’ve just got to protect the kid,’ said Weinstock, chairman of the American Cancer Society’s skin cancer advisory group.”

Weinstock’s comments are interesting, given that the study suggested that sunscreen usage was not relevant to the finding. “It shows that pimping sunscreen usage is their main objective — so much so that they’re willing to pound a square peg into a round hole for any opportunity to promote its usage.”

Also left unsaid in the article is the fact that scientists still are not clear that excessive UV exposure leads to the formation of moles. “It is one hypothesis, but it is far from being undisputed,” Levy said. “And given that this study didn’t even follow the sun-care habits of people on their vacations, it’s a mistake for any of the researchers to be drawing definite conclusions.”