Australian experts are stressing the need for comprehensive sun protection standards for children. In the absence of such standards, babies and pre-schoolers are being unnecessarily exposed to the risk of skin cancer, they say.
The Australian-first assessment of policies and practices of more than 1000 childcare services found that one third of policies do not incorporate protective clothing or conduct regular updates of policy and over one third do not incorporate sun protective information for parents or caregivers.
According to Cancer Council Australia's CEO, Professor Ian Olver, the research highlighted the need to better inform parents of the importance of sun protective clothing, which includes a collared, long-sleeve shirt as well as longer style shorts and skirts.
"Current evidence suggests that childhood sun exposure contributes significantly to the lifetime risk of skin cancer," Professor Olver said. "It's important to keep children protected from the sun and one of the best barriers between your skin and the sun is clothing.
"However, the majority of childhood services are to be commended for having a written sun protection policy, which commonly required hats, sunscreen and policy enforcement by staff."
The study, conducted by Cancer Council's Behavioural and Evaluation Unit in South Australia, identified that stronger policies translated into safer practices.
The study discovered that in practice:
One quarter of services did not require children to wear specific sun-protective hats such as broad-brimmed or legionnaire styles.
One in five services did not supply sunscreen.
Just over half (60 per cent) applied sunscreen to children 15 minutes before going outdoors.
Less than half (47 per cent) reapplied sunscreen regularly to children if they were outdoors.
One third did not require children to wear any protective clothing, and less than half required specific protective clothing such as collars (24 per cent), shirts with long sleeves (45 per cent) and longer shorts or skirts (25 per cent).
While services encouraged staff to wear hats, fewer encouraged them to also adopt protective clothing (57 per cent).
One quarter of services did not have enough shade for all children to play outside.
Services who are members of the SunSmart Program had more comprehensive sun protection practices than non-SunSmart services.