Edited. Why is sun protection at school important?

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1 Edited Why is sun protection at school important? Dr Judith Galtry, Skin Cancer Control Advisor, Cancer Society of New Zealand Skin cancer is the most common cancer in New Zealand. We have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with approximately 50,000 new cases and over 300 people dying from it every year. Most of these deaths are from melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Promoting sun safe behaviour among children is a key focus for the Cancer Society. This is because individuals who have been exposed to excessive amounts of UV radiation in childhood and adolescence increase their risk of skin cancer. Sunburn in childhood also increases the risk of melanoma. However, the good news is that skin cancer is largely preventable and strategies that begin early in life count! Schools are important because they are places where children learn and practise new skills, including sun safe behaviours. They also spend more than 30 hours per week at school and are often outdoors during the most dangerous times, i.e. between October and March (especially between 11am to 4pm). While excess UVR is responsible for damaging and burning your skin, you can t see it or feel it! 1

2 Ensuring children are protected from the sun is especially important for us. New Zealand has very high rates of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) compared with other countries. We also face some unique challenges with regard to skin cancer prevention, particularly our temperate climate. We sometimes wrongly assume that we don t need to be SunSmart on cool or cloudy days. Yet, from early October through to late March, during Terms 4 and 1, the levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) are generally high in New Zealand but these are not always matched by high temperatures. What Can Principals Do to Ensure Children are Sun Safe? In SunSmart Week, November 2005 the Cancer Society launched its SunSmart Schools Accreditation programme, with its own website What is the SunSmart Schools Accreditation Programme? This programme provides accreditation for New Zealand schools that have developed and implemented a sun protection policy for Terms 1 and 4 that meets the Cancer Society s minimum criteria. The accreditation process recognises the efforts a school is making to implement a comprehensive sun protection policy. For many families, sun protection is an important component when selecting a school that ensures their children s general safety. We recommend that all primary and intermediate schools consider adopting and implementing the SunSmart Schools Accreditation programme. The beauty of this programme is that it provides a full range of information about how schools and parents can help protect children from the sun, as well as all the necessary supporting materials (draft policy, minimum standards for accreditation and online application form etc) which are downloadable from the SunSmart Schools 2

3 website. Moreover, while schools can apply to become accredited online, their local Cancer Society is available to assist them with this process. We have been very impressed by the level of interest already shown by many schools in the SunSmart Schools Accreditation programme. Lots of schools already have a sun protection policy and they are really keen to bring their policy up to the level of accreditation. This will involve, for example, ensuring that hat wearing is compulsory rather than voluntary. What should a school sun protection policy cover? A comprehensive sun protection policy for schools covers the following 4 areas: Behaviour- to reduce exposure to UV radiation e.g. ensuring the use of broad brimmed (min. 7.5cm brim) or bucket style (minimum 6cm brim) sunhats, protective clothing and broad spectrum SFP30+ sunscreen. Environment- promoting the provision and use of shade and rescheduling activities, wherever possible, before 11am. Curriculum- including education on sun protection and skin cancer prevention. Policy review- at least 3 yearly. While the downloadable draft policy on the SunSmart Schools website is not a requirement for becoming accredited, it will save needing to develop your own school policy from scratch. Other useful information on the website 3

4 Curriculum resources for teaching about Being SunSmart, (currently for Years 5 & 6 but to include a full set for Years 1-8) by SunSmart Week 2006, 6-10 November. Hat guidelines (these depict SunSmart hats). Shade guidelines for schools (with photos of effective school shade structures in several New Zealand primary schools). Why should my school become SunSmart Accredited? Benefits: You will be implementing a comprehensive sun protection policy that will reduce the exposure of your students and staff to the harmful effects of excessive UV radiation. Becoming a SunSmart Accredited School shows your community you have a commitment to the present and future health of your students. You will receive a SunSmart School certificate. The Cancer Society will send a sample media release to your local newspaper. The Cancer Society will offer schools that are not initially successful further assistance to help them become accredited. Who can help my school become accredited? Your local division of the Cancer Society is able to help you to develop a policy that meets the minimum criteria for SunSmart Schools Accreditation. Local Division contact details are available on the SunSmart Schools website see Contact us. Why should Principals care? 4

5 Principals have been shown to play a key role in encouraging the adoption and implementation of sun protective policies and practices. Principals also have a moral and legal duty of care to protect students from harm. This includes minimising their UVR exposure through ensuring a range of personal (behavioural) and environmental (shade) measures. Not to do so may represent a breach of standard of care. It is easy to assume that because skin cancer does not occur for many years, it is less important, say, than ensuring students are safe when involved in swimming, boating, horse riding or other potentially dangerous outdoor activities. This is a short -sighted view and, although hard to believe now, this was once how people thought about smoking! 5

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