Exposure to too much sun can do more harm than good is a known fact. Despite this, new research shows that most children are not protected. With only one in four children wearing sunscreen, the researchers also found more than half of them having sunburns in the previous summers.
The results are concerning because sunburns at an early age are known to be connected to skin cancer later on.
“The problem is if you sunburn in childhood, you raise your risk of developing skin cancer later on,” says Sophie J. Balk, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City.
A recent study found that children who had sunburn were twice as likely to have melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer as adults. In the US 9,000 deaths annually are reported due to Melanoma. It is the exposure to sun’s harmful UV radiations which is the biggest modifiable risk factor for this skin disease.
For the study, which has been published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers evaluated the sunscreen use of 360 fifth graders in 2004 when they were 11 years old and then again in 2007. In 2004 half of the kids wore sunscreen but by 2007, only 25 percent did so. Also, more than half of the children said that they had sunburns in 2004 as well as 2007.
The researchers observed that the age between 11 and 14 was crucial in developing ideas like tanning, and wearing sunscreen especially among girls. They said that girls were twice as likely to say they liked tan at age 14 than at age 11 and they also liked spending time in the sun.
By the time boys and girls in the study were 14, they were 60%-70% less likely to say they “often or always” wore sunscreen when at the beach or pool last summer than when they were 11.
“Of most concern, it appears that groups at highest risk of skin cancer, very fair/fair children and those who obtained tans, were more likely to increase their sunburns during this crucial period,” said researcher Stephen Dusza, MD, of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
The researcher adds that the next step is to ensure that the sunscreen use should be promoted in pediatric offices.
“The next step is to learn how to best promote sun protection in pediatric offices and community settings such as beaches, after-school sites, and sporting events,” Dusza says in a news release. “This is especially true for adolescents who are developing tan-promoting behaviors.”
Dr. Balk however says that sunscreen is only one of the ways of protecting the skin. For teens especially the damaging effect of the sun can be prevented by wearing sun protective clothing, limiting outdoor activities between 10.00 am to 4.00 pm and wearing sunglasses and wide brimmed hat.
“Parents should understand that a tan is a sign of a problem and set an example for their kids by getting into the habit of sun protection so hopefully it becomes a lifelong habit for their children,” Balk says.
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