At a glance
- 2.0 million (49.3%) Queensland adults were sunburnt in the previous 12 months.
- 820,000 (20.5%) Queensland adults reported they used a broad brimmed hat, SPF30 or higher sunscreen and sun-safe clothing in summer most of the time.
- 410,000 (47.4%) Queensland children were sunburnt in the previous 12 months.
Exposure to the sun is a risk factor for future skin cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in Queensland.1 While the causes of skin cancer include genetic factors and for some specific types, an infectious disease component, high UV exposure at all ages is associated with increased skin cancer risk. Sunburn during childhood, frequent sunburn and sunburn that blisters the skin all increase a person’s susceptibility to future UV-related carcinogenesis.2–6
According to the most recent information available:
- In 2018, high sun exposure accounted for 0.7% of the total burden of disease (DALY).7
- In 2015–16, non-melanoma skin cancer accounted for 11.9% ($1.0 billion) of the health expenditure for cancer and other neoplasms, the 2nd largest percentage after the aggregate “other benign, in-situ and uncertain neoplasms”, while melanoma accounted for 1.9% ($163 million) of the health expenditure for that disease group.8
In 2020, almost half of adult Queenslanders (49.3%) reported being sunburnt in the previous 12 months. Of those adults that were sunburnt, 9.5% had a sunburn that blistered their skin.
Adult Queenslanders who had been sunburnt in the previous 12 months were more likely to be:
Children and youth
Based on parent reporting, 47.4% of children in Queensland were sunburnt in the previous 12 months.
Of the children who had been sunburnt in the previous 12 months:
- 37.4% were sunburnt once.
- 30.2% were sunburnt twice.
- 32.4% were sunburnt three or more times.
- 8.6% had a sunburn that blistered their skin.
Children who had been sunburnt in the previous 12 months were more likely to be older, but there was no significant difference between boys and girls.
In 2020, the Queensland preventive health survey collected more detailed information about sunburn and sun-safe practices among children (Figure 3).
This survey showed, for children who were sunburnt in the previous 12 months:
- 69% reported they were most recently sunburnt during a water-based activity.
- 55% reported they were sunburnt on the face or head.
- 47% of parents reported that one of the reasons for their child’s sunburn was “not reapplying sunscreen”.
Sun-safe behaviours include wearing a broad brimmed hat, clothing that protects against the sun (long sleeves or long pants), wrap-around sunglasses, seeking shade and applying sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
In 2020, 54.8% of adult Queenslanders practiced at least three of the five sun-safe behaviours most or all the time they spent in the sun during summer. Adults who met this benchmark were more likely to be female, older and live in regional and remote areas. There were no differences based on socioeconomic status.
In 2021, 45.0% of Queensland children practiced at least three of the five sun-safe behaviours most or all the time they spent in the sun during summer. Younger children were significantly more likely to meet this benchmark, but there was no significant difference between boys and girls.
- 13.5% of children practiced the most common combination of sun safe behaviours—wearing a hat, wearing sun-safe clothing, seeking shade and applying sunscreen most or all of the time in summer.
- 9.0% of children practiced none of the sun-safe behaviours most, or all of the time in summer.
From 2010 to 2020, there was no significant change in the percentage of adult Queenslanders who had been sunburnt in the previous 12 months.
Data and statistics
Summary results from the Queensland preventive health survey (QPHS) for Hospital and Health Services and other regions can be found within this report and more detailed and historical results can be accessed at Preventive health surveys.
Strategies and information
For information about sun protection and advice on reducing ultraviolet radiation exposure see:
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency—Sun protection
Section technical notes
Where presented, ratios were calculated using higher precision estimates than in text. Ratios calculated using estimates in text may differ.
Data for this section were sourced from:
- Queensland preventive health survey (QPHS) (See Preventive health surveys for further information)
- Australian Secondary School Alcohol and Drugs Survey (ASSAD) (See Australian secondary school students alcohol and drug survey for further information)
- Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services (See Report on Government Services for further information).
At the time of publication, national comparisons more recent than 2017–18 were not available due to a COVID-related delay in the conduct of the ABS’s National Health Survey and the manner in which the data was collected. Further details can be found at National Health Survey: First Results methodology.
- Perera E., Gnaneswaran N., Staines C., Win A. & Sinclair R. 2015. Incidence and prevalence of non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia: a systematic review. Australasian Journal of Dermatology. 56: 258–267.
- Whiteman D.C., Whiteman C.A. & Green A.C. 2001. Childhood sun exposure as a risk factor for melanoma: a systematic review of epidemiologic studies. Cancer Causes Control. 12(1): 69–82.
- Dennis L.K., Vanbeek M.J., Freeman L.E., Smith B.J., Dawson D.V. & Coughlin J.A. 2008. Sunburns and risk of cutaneous melanoma: does age matter? A comprehensive meta-analysis. Annals of Epidemiology. 18(8): 614–627.
- Backes C., Religi A., Moccozet L., Behar-Cohen F., Vuilleumier L., Builliard J.L. & Vernez D. 2019. Sun exposure to the eyes: predicted UV protection effectiveness of various sunglasses. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. 29(6): 753–764.
- Wu S., Han J., Laden F. & Qureshi A.A. 2014. Long-term Ultraviolet Flux, Other Potential Risk Factors, and Skin Cancer Risk: A Cohort Study. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. 23(6): 1080–1089. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-13-0821.
- Cust A.E., Jenkins M.A., Goumas C., Armstrong B.K., Schmid H., Aitken J.F. & et al. 2011. Early-life sun exposure and risk of melanoma before age 40 years. Cancer Causes Control. 22(6): 885–897.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 2021. Australian Burden of Disease Study: Impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2018. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 23. Cat. no. BOD 29. Canberra: AIHW. doi: 10.25816/5PS1-J259.
- Phillips A. 2021. Health system expenditure on cancer and other neoplasms in Australia, 2015-16. Canberra, ACT: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.