With summer approaching, scores of Kiwi school children will be hitting the fields and courts to make the most of the fantastic weather.
But as the days start to heat up, so does the risk from the sun’s rays, and some children may not even get to enjoy its warmth.
A University of Otago study says although there has been progress made in ensuring New Zealand children are sunsmart at school, central Government needs to take more responsibility.
The study examined changes in sun protection policies between 2005 and 2009 at random state primary schools.
Criteria reviewed included school policy, information given to parents, hats and clothing provided, “play in the shade” rules and sunscreen availability.
Associate Professor Tony Reeder says sun protection at school is a basic health and safety issue for students, because exposure early in life has an impact later on.
“Yet, as we note in our study, it has become largely the responsibility of a charity, the Cancer Society of New Zealand, to introduce and sustain health promotion efforts in this area,” he says.
Marketing and communications manager of the Auckland Cancer Society Alannah Hunter says it is important schools are well educated in sun-smartness.
“Children need to develop good sun protection practices from a young age,” she says.
“Skin cancers can be as a result of cumulative exposure to the sun. Hence it’s very important for children to understand and practice Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap.
Hunter agrees the Government needs to play a greater role in this education.
The Government should be “making SunSmart a requirement in the National Administration Guidelines as it is a key health issue that could be seen as a duty of care for the school to provide a safe environment for its pupils,” she says.
Principal of Glamorgan School in Torbay Janet Pinchen says her school has made it a goal to keep their children safe in the sun.
“We think it’s a necessary life skill for our children, particularly living in a coastal environment where many of our families use the beach, sail and swim on a regular basis,” she says.
The school has policies so both children and parents develop a good attitude towards the issue.
“Children are required to wear a sun hat in terms one and four when outside and those who don’t are required to play in allocated shade areas,” she says.
“We also keep a large pump bottle of sunblock in the main office easily accessible so any parents or adults can come in and top up as needed throughout the day.”
Susan Leonard from the Skin Institute, which offers free spot checks for children, says they are getting more children coming to the clinic.
“Fortunately it seems the constant advertising for sunscreen and reminders about New Zealand’s harsh sun has obviously been taken to heart with parents and more recently schools,” she says.