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Sun sight safety message strikes home

Sun sight safety message strikes home

After just three years, a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the risks of UV radiation to children's eyesight is starting to sink in.

The campaign was launched by Visique Optometrists in an effort to encourage wearing of sunglasses from an early age. Their concern, according to Visique optometrist Kevin O'Connor, was the lack of awareness about the damaging effects of long-term UV exposure. "The risks include cataracts and macular degeneration, which are leading causes of blindness later in life, as well as pterygia and cancer," he says. "Children's eyes can be more susceptible to damage as generally their pupils are larger and their lenses are clearer, which allows more UV light through."

This year, more than 1000 schools nationwide have signed up to the campaign, which provides a free pair of sunglasses for five-year old new entrants.

"It's more than double the number of schools that have registered in previous years, and it's definitely a sign the message is being grasped," Mr O'Connor says.

"The most important reason children's eyes need protection is that almost all the damage occurs over a long period of exposure, slowly and painlessly. When you consider a person has 70+ years of UV exposure in a lifetime, they need protection at a young age, so that these problems are delayed as long as possible."

In Australia, increasing numbers of schools are making it compulsory to wear sunglasses in the playground. This is in line with SunSmart programmes which have extended the 'slip, slop, slap' message to also 'wrap' on sunglasses.

"We believe wearing of sunglasses, in conjunction with a hat, will reduce radiation exposure to the eye to virtually zero," Mr O'Connor says.

However, he stresses the importance of standards. Sunglasses should have dark lenses and wrap around the eye to block 99-100% of both UVA and UVB.

New Zealand cricket captain Daniel Vettori has lent his support to the campaign. An art competition on the theme of sun sight safety, which builds the safety message within the classroom, has as its prize the opportunity to play cricket with Vettori. The winning school will be announced in February.

Useful links The New Zealand Association of Optometrists has information online on standards for sunglasses.

The SunSmart programme is encouraging the wearing of sunglasses, as one of a number of a ways that schools can increase sun protection for their students.

Further information on the risks to eyesight from UV radiation is available from the Optometrists Association of Australia.


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