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Warning to protect children in the sun as 90% of 10-17 year olds say they've had sunburn at least once

New research was published by the Institute of Public Health and NUI Galway today.

Image: Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker

NEARLY NINE IN ten 10-17 year olds say that they’ve experienced sunburn in their lifetime and, as we spend more time outside due to the Covid-19 restrictions, expert warn that the message to protect our skin outdoors has never been more important.

A new report published today by NUI Galway and the Institute of Public Health examines children’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and sunbeds, UV skin protection behaviours and sunburn. 

As well as 90% reporting sunburn at some stage, almost three quarters (74%) say they’ve experienced sunburn at least once in the last year. 

The report finds that eight in ten schoolchildren report wearing sunscreen, while seven in ten say they wear sunglasses on sunny days. 

Other sun protective measures such as covering up, wearing hats and avoiding peak UV hours were less consistent .

Girls are more likely to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, clothes that cover their arms and legs as well as avoid peak UV hours on sunny days. Boys were only more likely to wear hats on sunny days. 

Furthermore, 17.3% of children report never using sunscreen at all on a sunny day. 

The report also finds that 3% of children say they’ve used a sunbed in the last 12 months. Providing a sunbed to someone under the age of 18 is against the law, but it is not clear in the survey how much of this sunbed use happened on commercial premises.

Dr Helen McAvoy, from the Institute of Public Health, says the frequency of sunburn which the report highlights is “concerning and shows there is a need for focused action and research on skin cancer prevention”. 

“Being outside and keeping active is good for children’s physical and mental health, but they also need to be sun smart,” she says.

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“As measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are still in place, and as school holidays start, it is likely that more children will be outdoors playing.  We need to ensure that people are not over exposed to the sun, avoid peak UV hours, use sunscreen, and wear sunglasses, hats, and clothing to cover arms and legs.”

The researchers included a list of five measures to take to protect your skin. They include slip on clothing that covers your skin such as long sleeves, collared t-shirts, putting on sunscreen on exposed areas and using factor 50+ for children, putting on a wide-brimmed hat, seeking shade particularly between 11am and 3pm and putting on sunglasses to protect your eyes. 

The results of this survey came from an analysis of 10,000 school children, and will be used to help inform the implementation of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan. 

About the author:

Sean Murray

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