The Sunsmart issue – what is to be done?

1/10/2014

For many New Zealanders, both old and young, being sun smart is a woefully neglected area of life. Our largely outdoors lifestyle, prompted by the good weather we enjoy in the summer and autumn months, means that we as a nation are among the highest when it comes to numbers of skin cancer victims. In 2010, it was estimated that 2,341 cases of melanoma were diagnosed in New Zealand. Of these 324 proved to be fatal.

It is estimated that the majority of a person’s lifetime UVR (ultra violet radiation) exposure occurs during childhood and adolescence. Schools, in particular, are places where children and adolescents spend a considerable amount of time during high UVR times i.e. September to April inclusive, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Therefore, the importance of proper care and protection of children from these harmful UV rays cannot be overstated. While melanoma rarely affects children in pre-adolescent and adolescent years, it is often a lack of care or preventative action at this stage of their development which can lead to skin cancer developing in their late teen and adult years. One case of blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.

In March 2013, Sally Evans* noticed a small black mole on the back of her heel. Doctors dismissed it as nothing, but it niggled away at the back of her mind. Finally, despite the nay-saying of the doctors, she had it removed, and a few weeks later, the results came back. Melanoma! Caught, luckily, before it spread to other parts of her body, Evans is now a staunch advocate for skin care. “They said it probably developed when I was just a kid, and it just took all this time to show up.” Evans doesn’t doubt that this is entirely probable – as a child, being sun smart was never high on her list of priorities. “I guess we never really thought too much about it – when you’re a kid, you’re just not thinking that far ahead, really. What they told me was that all it would have taken was one intense period of sun exposure for the mole to turn cancerous.”

So what is the answer?

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with children will appreciate that force and threats rarely work, nor do horror stories. However, something must be done if we are to check the ever climbing statistic that represents the number of skin cancer cases occurring in New Zealand, and indeed, the world, each year. Matthew Boakes, the sales manager of Shade Systems, believes he has the answer. His company has been working on a solution to this problem for the last ten years. Their shade structures and coverings for play areas have been taken up by a large number of schools across New Zealand. Business has been steadily increasing over the last two years. Matthew believes that a large part of this is the shift in social awareness regarding skin care. “Going back a few years, no-one really thought about it. It’s only in the last little while that the issue has really come to the attention of the public. So all of a sudden, you’ve got parents and teachers concerned for the well-being of their kids.

The way we see it, prevention is always better than cure. It’s far easier, and much less painful to cut out UV exposure now than it is to cut out a melanoma in ten years’ time.”

We couldn’t agree more. Don’t let your students be the next statistics on the Cancer Society of New Zealand’s list. Call Shade Systems if you’re interested in covering up YOUR playground area – 0800 166 722.

*not her real name