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NZ school children’s summer sun exposure

Friday 21 April 2006

New findings on NZ school children’s summer sun exposure

Kiwi kids receive higher daily UV doses during summer school weeks than on weekends, according to a University of Otago study - a finding which highlights the importance of sun protection programmes at schools, researchers say.

The Sun Study, carried out in collaboration with NIWA and funded by the Cancer Society, used UV-monitoring badges to record the sun exposure of nearly 500 school children around New Zealand over the 2004/2005 summer.

The 488 children from Years 4 and 8 also filled out activity diaries and questionnaires to gauge their sun-related knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, says co-investigator and University of Otago PhD student Caradee Wright, who is presenting findings at a UV workshop on Friday 21 April.

Ms Wright and fellow public health student Vanessa Hammond visited 27 schools in the Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago/Southland regions to collect the data.

After analysing the data with help from biostatistician Andrew Gray of the University’s Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, they found that although girls among the older age group knew more about sun protection than boys, their sun protection behaviour was less protective than younger boys and girls, says Ms Wright.

“In contrast, the younger girls’ behaviour was the most protective of all. Older children in general were more likely to express positive attitudes towards a suntan than the younger ones,” she says.

“When we looked at total daily UV exposure, we found that children in Northern regions and older children received higher UV doses. Interestingly, total daily UV doses were higher on weekdays compared to the weekend, indicating the importance sun protection programmes at schools,” she says.

Passive outdoor pursuits, such as sunbathing and reading, were associated with higher UV exposures than active ones, she says.

Wearing a hat was found to be the most common means children used to protect themselves from the sun.

“Overall, we found that the children’s sun-related knowledge and behaviour were more likely to be preventive for melanoma when attitudes towards a suntan were not positive. This finding could be potentially useful in future for skin cancer prevention / sun protection health promotion efforts.”

The study involved collaboration between Dr Tony Reeder (Social and Behavioural Research and Cancer Group) and Associate Professor Brian Cox (Hugh Adam Cancer Epidemiology Unit) at the University of Otago, and Dr Greg Bodeker and Dr Richard McKenzie at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

The findings will be presented at the NIWA UV Radiation and its Effects: an update (2006) Workshop in Dunedin. Further results will be presented at the American Society for Photobiology Annual Meeting in Puerto Rico in July.


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