Nine in ten schoolchildren have suffered at least one bout of sunburn, new Irish research reveals today.
Repeated episodes of severe sunburn during childhood doubles the risk of developing melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer – in later life.
The report by the Institute of Public Health and NUI Galway, examines for the first time children’s exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and sunbeds, UV skin protection behaviours, and sunburn Prevention Plan.
Nearly 90pc of 10 to 17-year-olds said they have experienced sunburn in their lifetime. Around 74pc said they experienced sunburn at least once during the past year.
Childhood sunburn, unprotected sun exposure and use of sunbeds increase the risk of developing skin cancers later in life.
The report found that eight out of 10 schoolchildren reported wearing sunscreen, while seven out of 10 reported using sunglasses on sunny days.
However, the adoption of other sun protection measures, like covering up, wearing hats and avoiding peak UV hours, were less consistent.
Just 32pc of schoolchildren reported that they avoided peak UV hours of the day. Around 50pc said they wore protective clothing to cover arms and legs when in the sun, while 17pc 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 on sunny days. Boys were more likely to wear hats on sunny days.
The report also found that 3pc of children said they used a sunbed in the last 12 months. While the report found sunbed use by children under 18, it is not clear how much of this use is occurring in commercial premises. Providing a sunbed service to anyone under the age of 18 is contrary to Irish law as outlined in the Public Health (Sunbeds) Act 2014.
Dr Helen McAvoy, from the Institute of Public Health and co-author of the report, believes the message to protect skin when outdoors has never been more important as people spend more time outside during the Covid-19 restrictions.
Dr McAvoy said: “The frequency of sunburn found in this report is concerning and shows there is a need for focused action and research on skin cancer prevention. Being outside and keeping active is good for children’s physical and mental health, but they 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.”
“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 sun 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 programmes and targeting resources to those children and families who most need it.”