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UNF public health publishes study on skin cancer screening portrayals on Pinterest

Headshot of Dr. Julie MertenDr. Julie Merten, University of North Florida associate professor of public health, has recently published a research paper on how skin cancer screenings are portrayed on the social media platform, Pinterest. The study takes a closer look at the quality and accuracy of the information available on the social media platform and provides better, more reliable solutions for those seeking advice on how to prevent skin cancer.

Skin cancer rates are rising in the United States, yet screening rates remain low. Meanwhile, social media has evolved to become a primary source of public health information, with 40% of daily users of Pinterest reporting the platform as a “go-to” wellness source. Using the search terms “skin cancer screening” and “skin cancer exam,” Merten and her research partners sampled every fifth Pinterest “pin” to collect 274 relevant samples.

Merten discovered that in general, pins were geared toward younger, white women with minimal depiction of people of color. Few pins included comprehensive information about skin cancer risk factors, the importance of routine self-screenings or what to expect with a medical provider when receiving a total body skin examination.

Rather than relying on information gathered from social media, Merten encourages people to establish a relationship with a dermatologist to create a plan for monitoring their skin for signs of skin cancer and determining the frequency of screenings based on their individual level of risk. Merten also explains that while Pinterest is not the best place for users to gather information on skin cancer screenings, the platform does offer an important opportunity for public health professionals and dermatologists to create comprehensive, accurate and engaging social media content that links to reliable sources of information.

To read the full paper on “Content Analysis of Skin Cancer Screenings on Pinterest: An Exploratory Study," visit the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.