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NSW state schools fail SunSmart test:

Cancer Council's Kathy Chapman says, NSW Government should update its sun protection policy as a matter of urgency
By Kathy Chapman
Date: March 07 2012
Tags: skin, sun, school, safety,
Editor Rating:

When I was at school I remember sitting at our school assembly in the hot sun without a hat or sunscreen. In fact teachers didn’t permit their students to wear hats because it was a uniform deviation! So we struggled in the heat through school updates and played in the hot playground, never thinking it would be any different.

How things change! We now know how much damage the sun can cause unprotected skin, with many parents becoming really mindful about protectingtheir children against skin cancer.

So they may be surprised to learn that the sun protection policy for NSW state schools compares unfavourably to sun protection policies in other states in Australia, in terms of the basic sun protection measures required. Only Tasmania, which has a cooler climate, has a more lenient policy.

Yet Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and two out of three Australian children at school today will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some time in the future. That’s enough to scare any parent.

In the era of Slip, Slop, Slap (and Slide and Seek) why has this happened? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

Firstly, we need to get with the times! NSW state school principals are following a sun protection policy that was introduced by the government in 1997, a policy that is almost 15 years old.

The policy requires students to “wear a hat” and 15+ sunscreen which was okay ten years ago but now we know it’s not enough. Our recent research shows thousands of students as young as five are leaving their ears, cheeks and back of neck exposed to dangerous UV rays by wearing a baseball cap to school. It’s simple, when choosing a hat to protect children from the sun, brims are best.

Interestingly Catholic primary school students tend to be better protected against the sun as these schools endorse a broad brim hat as part of their uniform. So if they can do it, why can’t NSW state schools?

That’s why we’re asking the NSW government to update the current policy as a matter of urgency to bring us in line with other states.

You can also help. Talk to your school about their sun protection policy and ask them to implement some simple measures such as mandatinga sun safe hat (and not a baseball cap) as part of the school uniform and encouraging children to use sunscreen before going outside. We are happy to help schools through our SunSmart program.

All children should have the same protection against skin cancer, irrespective of where they live or which school they attend. Don’t you think?

Kathy Chapman

As Health Strategies Director for Cancer Council NSW, Kathy is responsible for leading cancer prevention work, focusing on encouraging healthy living. She is passionate about making healthy choices the easy choice for Australians, young and old and she is one of the leading Australian researchers on junk food marketing and pester power. As a qualified nutritionist, she is also a foodie who enjoys cooking for family and friends.

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