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SunSmart Week 14 – 20 November 2004

Media release: SunSmart Week 14 – 20 November 2004

Aussie Kids Sunsmarter Than Kiwis

Walk past most schools in Victoria in Australia in summer and chances are that the children will be wearing sunhats. The same cannot be said for many New Zealand schools.

“In the area of protecting our children from skin cancer, at least, we could learn a lesson from the Australians,” says Dr Judith Galtry, Cancer Society SunSmart Schools spokesperson.

This week is SunSmart Week. Most New Zealanders have heard of the Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap campaign. Yet, Dr Galtry says, this country still has among the highest skin cancer rates in the world. And children are particularly at risk.

Each year around 300 people die from skin cancer and many more develop it. Skin cancer also poses substantial costs to the country. An independent economic analysis undertaken for the Cancer Society of New Zealand estimates that skin cancer costs the New Zealand Government in excess of $33 million per year.

“Research has identified children as particularly at risk because sun exposure during childhood appears to set the stage for the development of skin cancer, including the often-deadly melanoma. In addition, the majority of a person’s lifetime UV exposure occurs before age 18,” Dr Galtry says.

The Cancer Society believes an emphasis on sun protection policy development in early childhood centres and schools makes sense.

“These are settings where infants and young children spend much of their time and also learn important life skills. Yet, the results of a 1999 survey commissioned by the Cancer Society suggest that approximately half of New Zealand primary schools do not even have a ‘no hat, no play in the sun’ policy.”

Why is it that New Zealand seems to lag behind Australia in the development of sun safe policy for schools?

Dr Galtry suggests barriers include an historical lack of interest by government, and deregulation of the education sector with the issue falling between the Ministries of Health and Education’s responsibility gaps, along with resistance among some principals and staff.

“Instead, the responsibility for policy making has devolved to individual schools’ Boards of Trustees. There is also no legal requirement that schools develop and implement sun protection policies.”

Currently, the Cancer Society, along with the Health Sponsorship Council and Public Health Units, is one of very few organisations working in the area of sun safety.

Given New Zealand’s negative skin cancer statistics, Dr Galtry says it is vital that all those in a position to have an influence in protecting our children from the risk of skin cancer, such as the Ministries of Health and Education, take a strong united stand to ensure that all schools adopt and implement a sun protection programme.

“If the Aussies can do it, we can do it better!”


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