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Hats off to researchers who tried to persuade fourth-graders to wear hats

March 26, 2010 |  1:56 pm

Hat Sun damage to the skin starts early -- with much of it occurring in childhood. So wouldn't it be great if kids living in sunny parts of the country learned to protect themselves, say, by wearing hats?

Of course it would! To that end researchers in Florida signed up a whole passel of fourth-graders at 22 schools to participate in a sun-protection program. Kids at the intervention schools learned about the importance of sunscreen, hats and other forms of sun shielding. And, even better, they got two free wide-brimmed hats (one for school, one for home). Kids at the control schools simply dressed as did their siblings, their parents, their teachers, other students and pretty much the rest of the world.

You can see it coming...

As the researchers wrote: "The intervention increased use of hats among fourth-grade students at school but had no effect on self-reported wide-brimmed hat use outside of school or on measures of skin pigmentation."

Disappointing? Perhaps. Surprising? Not if you've ever parented, or been, a fourth-grader in a nation of people who, for the most part, do not wear hats. (Besides, we can hazard a guess as to how many of those second hats were ever seen again.)

But the researchers, noting that perhaps more widespread education efforts might be warranted, get an A for effort.

Their work was published online Tuesday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Here's the short version of their sun protection study and a press release from the University of South Florida Health.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Know who's under this hat? No, but you can bet it's not a kid.

Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times