Most children do not use sunscreen regularly, a practice that places them at greater risk for sunburn and melanoma, researchers report in the February 2012 issue of Pediatrics.

The new study included 360 fifth graders in Massachusetts who were surveyed in 2004 and three years later in 2007. About 50% of children said they had a sunburn before age 11 during the first survey. Three years later, the older children reported spending more time in the sun and applying even less sunscreen than they did in 2004. Specifically, half of the children who routinely used sunscreen at the beginning of the study no longer did three years later. Just 25% of the children in the group continued to use sunscreen regularly, the study showed.

“The next step is to learn how to best to promote sun protection in pediatric offices and community settings such as beaches, after-school sites, and sporting events,” said study author Stephen Dusza, DrPH, MPH, in a written statement. Dr. Dusza is an epidemiologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York City.

The research is part of the Study of Nevi in Children (SONIC), an effort by MSKCC investigators to explore genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors in mole development in children.