03 January 2006
Health report reveals need for greater sun safety
NSW Health has released results from a new study that shows just 16.5 per cent of people adequately protect themselves from the dangers of the sun during summer with many children still at risk of sunburn and skin damage.
Senior epidemiologist Margo Eyeson-Annan said more than 25,000 people took part in the two-year study from 2003 to 2004, the first of its kind to look at sun exposure, sun protection behaviour, sunburn and appropriate ultraviolet radiation (UVR) protection throughout the whole year.
The report found that almost two-thirds of all people often or always used sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing when in the midday sun in summer (63.6 per cent). In spring this rate was 59.3 per cent, 53.8 per cent in autumn and 44.8 per cent in winter.
But when these results are reclassified to take into account the stronger UVR in the summer months, the outcomes become less positive.
According to the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, UVR is extreme in December and January and very high in October, November, February and March.
During these periods, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends total protection, that is, avoiding being outside during the midday hours, make sure you seek shade, wear a shirt, sunscreen and hat.
In line with WHO sun protection guidelines, the percentage of people in NSW with adequate sun protection was just 16.5 per cent in summer - in winter 64.1 per cent, autumn 38.4 per cent and spring 17.1 per cent.
Of the 16.5 per cent who were adequately protected in summer, just under half never went out in the midday sun for more than 15 minutes, and just over half always wore a hat, protective clothes and sunscreen when out in the midday sun.
"Excessive sun exposure can lead to sunburn in the short term as well as melanoma and other skin cancers in the long term. With melanoma now the third most common skin cancer in NSW, people are potentially putting their lives at risk. This research highlights the need for people to take the 'slip, slop, slap' message seriously," Ms Eyeson-Annan said.
The study found that children (25.6 per cent) were more adequately protected from the summer-time sun compared to men (4.9 per cent) and women (9.0 per cent).
"The majority of sun damage occurs in childhood or adolescence. Parents need to be more vigilant so that protection rates for children increase to 100 per cent," Ms Eyeson-Annan said.
The NSW Health study also found an increased risk in sunburn from poor re-application of sunscreen after swimming.
"Sunscreen was the most likely sun protection measure to be used alone (12 per cent) in summer. Sunscreen can fail to prevent sunburn if it is washed off when swimming, it is not applied correctly, or if it is not reapplied frequently. Many people also tend to assume that sunscreen offers them more protection than it actually does and therefore stay in the sun longer than they should," Ms Eyeson-Annan said.
"While sunscreen is still important for sun protection, it should always be used in conjunction with other methods and needs to be applied properly. In addition, prolonged exposure to the midday sun should be avoided," Ms Eyeson-Annan said.
The study shows that both adults and children in NSW need to protect themselves year-round, particularly during summer, by avoiding the sun between 11am and 3pm.
If in the sun for more than 15 minutes between 11am and 3pm apply sunscreen regularly, wear a hat and sunglasses, and wear protective clothing.
For a range of health information, go online to www.health.nsw.gov.au