If you’re a child of the 80s and 90s like me, all I need to do is say ‘Slip. Slop. Slap’ and I’m sure you’ll be singing a little ditty in your head in no time. Ta da!
When the first of my kids started daycare ten years ago I was pretty chuffed to see the same seagull proudly pushing the same sun safety reminder message through posters – with the addition of Seek and Slide. Although it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it (I bet you’re still singing that annoying little song in your head – in the sun we always say…..) these two extra little words really do have great meaning. What a great message for our children to be learning. Seek shade as it will cut out more of the sun’s harmful UV rays and Slide on some sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV damage.
But let me ask you something. When you go to the park, playground or beach and look around, how many of the grownups are wearing sunglasses? Probably most of them. And then take another look – how many children do you see wearing sunnies? I’d say very few.
The reality is that in Australia wearing sunglasses is just not the norm for kids.
The enormously successful public health campaign during the 80s and 90s encouraged a generation to Slip, Slop Slap but I personally believe that the more recent add ons of Seek and Slide haven’t gained quite as much traction. Maybe the seagull just isn’t cutting it these days or maybe it’s just another chore for us parents to have to endure and force our kids to do.
I’m not sure what it is but for the health of my kids’ generation and those that come after, I really hope things start to change.
UV exposure can cause short term problems like acute photo keratopathy (your eyes getting sunburnt basically) and also have serious ramifications in the future. It might take 10, 20 or even 30 years before it hits but UV damage can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, pterygia and pingueculae, and even cancer.1
The scary truth is that in a typical Australian class of 30 grade sixers, eight of them will already have eye damage.
Yes, that’s right.
Research shows that 29% of kids aged 9-11 had eye damage from the sun – and this reached 81% in 12-15 year-olds.2 Given that Australia has one of the highest UV rates in the world, this information isn’t surprising.
What is surprising though is that we as parents aren’t necessarily aware of this – or what we can do to prevent it. We’ve got the skin cancer prevention thing under wraps but not so much the eye damage.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution.
Get kids to wear sunglasses!
The Cancer Council Australia recommends protecting the eyes during sun protection times (when the UV level is 3 or above) by:
reducing exposure of the eye to UV radiation as much as possible;
wearing close-fitting, wraparound style sunglasses that meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard for sunglasses (categories 2, 3 and 4) or the Australian/New Zealand Standard for eye protection for occupational applications (marked “O”) as appropriate; and
wearing a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire style hat.3
Children’s eyes cannot effectively filter out UV rays which means that they are receiving three times the exposure of an adult4, right from birth. Hats do help and the ‘no hat, no play’ policy enforced in most daycare centres and primary schools in Australia is fantastic. What an amazingly positive change in behaviour from just a generation ago. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could extend that behaviour to shading our kids’ eyes with sunnies as well as a hat. What a huge difference this would be to their long term eye and vision health. Given that up to 80% of a person’s LIFETIME UV exposure happens before the age of twenty5, changing the current perception and behaviour and making sunglasses the norm from a very early age would surely make a significant difference.
As parents of kids with vision issues I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted on this topic but I wanted to put it out there anyway in the hope that we can be the change makers. Let’s spread the word and hopefully slowly but surely behaviours will change. Let’s plant the seed of change with our kids, our friends’ kids and then hopefully kids grabbing a pair of sunnies and sliding them on will just be second nature.
1.Cancer Council Australia
2.Ultraviolet Fluorescence Photography to detect early sun damage in the eyes of School- Aged children. Ju-Lee Ooi, Neil Sharma, Daya P Sharma, Shanel Sharma et al. American Journal of Ophthalmology. 2006;141:294-298