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Phone app accurately tracks UV exposure

Elke Hacker, PhD, develops technologies to assist people with sun protective behaviors. Photo courtesy QUT media.

An experimental smartphone app has demonstrated it can help users track their UV exposure and may help individuals be more sun aware.

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology [QUT] Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation in Brisbane City, Australia, developed the app and conducted a study with 74 participants, aged 18 to 30 years. Published in JMIR Research Protocols (Apr. 2018; 7(4)). Data from the app was compared to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure data collected by wristwatch dosimeters and paper diaries. Data on physical activity levels were also collected by app, paper diary, and accelerometer.

The data collected by the app strongly correlated with that of the dosimeters, and more than half of the participants said recording their personal UVR exposure daily made them more sun-aware.

Lead author Elke Hacker, PhD, said in a press release that the findings suggest a smartphone app is a good platform for determining sun exposure, and that the accessibility and low cost of the system would allow it to be an effective way to assess how well skin cancer prevention programs are working, particularly in younger age groups.

“Sunburn shows you have received a damaging dose of sunlight and ultra-violet radiation (UVR), and sunburn increases the risk of melanoma,” Dr. Hacker said.

“The effectiveness of programs that look to raise skin cancer awareness and promote prevention are largely assessed by recording sun exposure behaviours.

“Our study shows a smartphone app to which people input their data is a reliable way to collect information about their sun and UVR exposure.”

Physical activity data was recorded to evaluate whether individuals focusing on sun avoidance were reducing their physical activity in unhealthy ways.

Dr. Hacker said that the study participants under-reported their low-intensity physical activity compared to what was captured by the accelerometer measuring devices they wore. This could be because the devices detected both incidental and purposeful physical activity, but the participants either did not consider acts such as walking from place to place to be ‘activities,’ or did not remember to record them.

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