Thursday, November 15, 2007

Schools Get a Failing Grade on Skin Cancer Smarts

By Joelle Applebe

Experts agree, American schools are failing on their ability to educate our kids on sun safety and protect them from the dangers of skin cancer.

There have been recent studies indicating that school in the United States are not up to par in protecting our kids from the ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer. These studies show that schools not only fail to help protect our kids, but they may actually be discouraging the students who try to protect themselves.

A study that was recently conducted at schools across the United States tracked the steps taken to encourage students to take precautions in the sun. Results were poor, indicating that most schools were doing absolutely nothing. A mere three percent of schools had guidelines in place to address sun safety. Of the plans that were in place, some sun-smart schools had arranged outdoor activities during off-peak sunlight hours or provided indoor activities as alternatives on days when the UV index was high.

Students who take part in outdoor activities should be encouraged to wear hats, sleeves and sunscreen between 11 am and 3 pm, the peak sunlight hours. Only a little more than three percent of schools taking part in the research had passing marks in following these protective guidelines.

Here's another frightening statistic: over 66 percent of schools do not allow teachers to apply sunscreen on students, unless the request was accompanied by a doctor's prescription. To make matters worse, fewer than five percent of schools are prepared to provide sunscreen to students who request it. That is simply teaching kids the wrong lesson. Most schools ban hats, in the fear that students will spread head lice by sharing hats. Sunglasses are also banned at most schools. Fewer than 20 percent of outdoor school areas have shaded areas available to allow students a protective escape from the sun.

It looks like it's time to give school principals some lessons in sun safety. At the time of this research study, nearly 70 percent of school principals felt that alerting students about the dangers of UV exposure was a waste of time and resources. Others claim to have had no idea that by spending a lot of time in the direct sunlight on the school playground, students could face an increased risk of skin cancer. On the other hand, a full 84 percent of principals admitted that their students often spent a lot time outdoors during peak sunlight hours.

Our children need and deserve protection. If schools are unable to provide this type of care, they'll need to make some changes. Here are some of the improvements suggested in the report:

* Planting trees provides necessary shade for students, and beautifies the schoolyard.

* Structures should be built to create shaded areas, and wider overhangs should be added to all school buildings. These efforts would offer protection for many students.

* Schools should make every effort to schedule as many outdoor activities as possible before or after peak sunlight hours.

* The use of sunscreen should be considered mandatory for all students, and not just permitted for a select few. No student should need a doctor's note to receive daily sunscreen application.

* Students must be allowed to wear sunglasses and hats while spending time outdoors.

* The health class curriculum should include lessons on skin cancer, to explain the causes, effects and prevention of this potentially deadly disease.

It's not always easy to get kids and teenagers to make the best choices, particularly when the negative effects of their choices seem to come about years, or even decades, later. Even so, these are important lessons to learn, so the classroom is the most sensible place to start. Teachers, principals and parents all share the responsibility and duty to keep our kids safe and well educated.

There are schools failing in their sun smarts, and those teachers and principals must be taught a few lessons, as well. If we fail to teach students about proper sun protection, our kids will suffer in the end.

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