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Sun-dumb Wellingtonians need smarts, hats, shade

Do you wear a protective hat or seek shade to protect yourself from the sun? If so, you are part of a small minority.

A research study by the University of Otago, Wellington, observed 2,635 children and adults in outdoor recreation spaces in the Wellington region between September 2014 and April 2015, including beaches, playgrounds and outdoor pools.

It found that only 4.3 per cent of people wore sun protective hats (broad-brim, bucket and legionnaire styles) and only 10.7 per cent were under shade at times when sun protection was warranted.

“Previously we only had information from surveys to tell us about the sun protection used by New Zealanders in recreational settings,” Ryan Gage from the university’s Department of Public Health said.

“Direct observations are needed to show what is actually happening.”

The research, published today in the New Zealand Medical Journal, is part of the landmark Kids’Cam Study, funded by the Health Research Council of NZ, which saw children capturing images of their world from wearable cameras.

New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the world. Each year, nearly 90,000 skin cancers are diagnosed and 500 New Zealanders die from skin cancer. Most of these cancers are caused by overexposure to the sun.

Unlike Australia, which has funded sustained awareness campaigns around sun smart behaviours, New Zealand has released no public media campaigns in almost a decade.

“Skin cancer is a highly preventable disease and represents a significant cost to the health system,” Gage says.

“We should learn from Australia and do more to encourage sun protection in general, both for children and adults. The SunSmart Schools programme alone is not enough to influence behaviours outside school grounds. Sun burning is highly common in outdoor recreational areas, and sun damage at any age contributes to skin cancer risk.”