19 November 2018
This National Skin Cancer Action Week (18–24 November), Cancer Council SA is celebrating 20 years of the National SunSmart Schools and Early Childhood Program in South Australia. Rebecca Hayward, Cancer Council SA Community Education Project Officer, discusses this milestone and what the program has achieved for South Australians.
The SunSmart program was first introduced into South Australia in 1998, with 98 schools and early childhood centres participating. The program now operates in over 800 schools, early childhood centres and OSHC services in SA, and protects over 114,000 children and their educators from overexposure to UV radiation. The unsung heroes in this story, however, are the schools and early childhood centres who work alongside us, to ensure our children are protected from UV radiation, when it matters the most.
Skin cancer in Australia
At least two in three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer before their 70th birthday. However, perhaps the most startling fact is that up to 95 per cent of skin cancers can be prevented by adequately protecting the skin.
Why is the program so important?
Melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 12–24 years, and exposure to UV radiation during childhood and adolescence is a known critical determinant of future skin cancer risk. When combined with the knowledge that damage from UV radiation is cumulative and irreversible, it’s easy to see why protecting children, and educating them on why it matters, is so important.
The program delivers evidence-based policy and practice guidelines and educational resources, imbedding it within the education setting, where children are during the peak UV times of the day. It recognises that sustainable behaviour change requires behaviours to be established from a young age, and normalised over the long term. After twenty years of the program operating in South Australia, we’re proud to recognise today’s children as the most SunSmart generation ever.
If I can leave you with one message, it’s this… Every single time you protect your child from UV radiation, you reduce their risk of skin cancer. Yes, it can be challenging applying sunscreen to an active toddler, or convincing teenagers to wear sunscreen and a hat, but when we consider the permanent and negative impact of not using sun protection, it is easy to see that the effort is worth it.
Lastly, I would personally like to thank all the schools and early childhood centres I have the privilege of working alongside - the impact of your work cannot be underestimated. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of children who have benefited from your participation in the program over the last twenty years; thank you!
Community Education Project Officer
Cancer Council SA
It’s never too early to start educating your family about sun protection—both in and out of school. Download the SunSmart app to learn more about when to use sun protection, or you can learn more about the SunSmart Schools and Early Childhood Program here.