A NEW report published by the Institute of Public Health and NUI Galway’s Health Promotion Research Centre presents data on sunburn, sun smart behaviours and sunbed use by children for the first time.
The report, Children’s exposure to ultraviolet radiation – risk profile for future skin cancers in Ireland, presents data on risk factors in Ireland for developing skin cancer in adult life
This report was developed to inform implementation of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2019-2022.
Data is presented principally from the 2018 Health Behaviours in School-Aged Children (HBSC) Survey, which reports health behaviours for those aged 10 to 17-years-old. The total sample size was 10,271.
Childhood sunburn, unprotected sun exposure and use of sunbeds increase the risk of developing skin cancers later in life. Repeated episodes of severe sunburn during childhood doubles the risk of developing melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – in later life.
Some of the key findings of the report include:
- Nearly 90% of 10 to 17-year olds said they have experienced sunburn in their lifetime. Around 74% said they experienced sunburn at least once during the past year.
- Eight out of 10 schoolchildren reported wearing sunscreen, while seven out of 10 reported using sunglasses on sunny days.
- The adoption of other sun protection measures, like covering up, wearing hats and avoiding peak UV hours, were less consistent.
- 32% of schoolchildren reported that they avoided peak UV hours of the day.
- Around 50% said they wore protective clothing to cover arms and legs when in the sun, while 17% reported never using sunscreen.
- Girls were more likely to wear sunscreen, sunglasses, clothes that cover arms and legs as well as avoid peak UV hours. Boys were more likely to wear hats.
- 3% of children said they used a sunbed in the last 12 months. The provision of sunbed services to children aged under 18 is contrary to Irish law as outlined in the Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014.
- Six of the 10 warmest years in Ireland’s history have occurred during the childhoods of the current cohort of 18 to 20-year olds.
- Climate research predicts hotter summers and more heatwaves. This may present elevating risk for UV skin damage, particularly in terms of childhood exposures during the summer school holidays.
Dr Helen McAvoy, from the Institute of Public Health and co-author of the report, said the report provides a baseline data to support implementation and monitoring of the Government’s skin cancer prevention plan.
Dr McAvoy said: “This report will help to inform public policy and programmes aimed at cancer prevention. The frequency of sunburn found in this report is concerning. Being outside and keeping active is good for our physical and mental health, but we also need to be sun smart. As measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 are still in place, and as school holidays start, it is likely that more children will be outdoors playing, going for walks, spending time in their gardens. We need to ensure that people are not over exposed to the sun, avoid peak UV hours, use sunscreen, and wear sunglasses, hats, and clothing to cover arms and legs.”
Prof Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, from NUI Galway’s Health Promotion Research Centre, said the findings provide a vital insight into children’s sun behaviours in Ireland.
Prof Nic Gabhainn added: “This is the first time that children’s behaviours have been comprehensively recorded in Ireland, and it’s clear that this area requires focused development to protect children. This survey data will be important for planning future awareness and behaviour programmes, and targeting resources to those children and families who most need it.”
Dr Triona McCarthy, Director of Public Health at the National Cancer Control Programme, has welcomed the report.
Dr McCarthy said: “We are delighted to have linked with the Institute of Public Health and NUIG to deliver a comprehensive profile of school-children’s risk and protective behaviours relating to UV exposure as outlined in the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan. UV exposure during the first 10–15 years of life makes a disproportionately large contribution to lifetime risk of skin cancer. This report will inform development of resources and implementation of programmes to support children and young people to enjoy being active outdoors safely. By adopting the ‘SunSmart 5 S’s’, the majority of skin cancers caused by UV sun exposure could be prevented.”
- Click here to read the executive summary and full report
- Click here to read the Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2019-2022
- Click here to watch the SunSmart tips to protect your skin
The report was launched at a live webinar which can be viewed below@
Follow the 5 S’s to protect your skin
- Slip on clothing that covers your skin such as long sleeves, collared t-shirts;
- Slop on sunscreen on exposed areas, using factor 50+ for children;
- Slap on a wide-brimmed hat;
- Seek shade – especially if outdoors between 11am and 3pm – and always use a sunshade on a child’s buggy;
- Slide on sunglasses to protect your eyes.
As well as the 5 S’s it is important to remember
- In Ireland, the UV radiation levels are high from April to September, even when it is cloudy. Stay safe by limiting time in the sun when UV is strongest, typically between the hours of 11:00am-3:00pm.
- Do not deliberately try to get a suntan. Remember tanned skin is damaged skin.
- Avoid getting a sunburn.
- Never use a sunbed.