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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

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Comments (9)

My hat's off because I think sun exposure is essential for sufficient Vitamin D production. Making kids sun-phobic should be classified as a criminal activity.

Are we even sure this is a positive idea? What about vitamin D needs, and the fact that very few skin cancers are life-threatening?

I commend the reasearchers efforts. Efforts that could be improved upon by also promoting the use of 100% UV protection sunglasses for these youngsters. So, wide-brimmed hats, sun-block, and sunglasses. That's the total package! The problem is, how do you get kids who are out all day playing sports like basketball, football, baseball, bicycle riding, etc. to all have on the hats and sunglasses? Oh wait, I forget, these days most kids are mostly indoors playing video and computer games anyway. In that case, should the focus be shifted to minimizing indoor pollution?

Systemic health problems due to inadequate exposure to Vitamin D and insufficient melatonin production start early. Kids are outside so little nowadays anyway, the last thing we should be doing is further reducing the exposure of their skin, eyes and pineal glands to natural sunlight.

Hats have been required for any child going outside in Australia for years.

It's about time. The Australians have been doing a campaign like this for almost 30 years. The "slip, slop, slap" campaign has been very effective. "Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat."

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slip-Slop-Slap

My grandfather had melanoma on his ear. When they cut his ear off, it was already too late; the cancer had spread. He suffered terribly and died within a year of seeing the first spot. Needless to say, my kids and I wear hats when we play outside. I send them to school with a sunblock stick and hat. Sometimes they use them, sometimes they don't, but I have to try.

For Vitamin D needs, you only need the equivalent of about 20 minutes of sun per day on an area of your skin that's about the size of your face. Kids are NOT going to have Vitamin D shortages when they wear hats outside.

And yes, skin cancer can and does kill. It's so easy to miss (who regularly scopes out their back or ears?) and it can spread very quickly. Even if it doesn't kill, the treatment is often disfiguring and can affect several important activities, especially if the treated area is anywhere close to or on the face.

I believe we all need to embrace the sun more into our lives - knowing that it provides excellent health giving Vitamin D, but also knowing that too much unprotected exposure can mean ugly, sore sunburn that has ramifications in such things as cancer, or at the very least, premature aging wrinkles! So it means playing outdoors as much as possible while protecting our skin with excellent sunscreens that prevent sun damage from both UVA and UVB rays. Hats always add to the level of protection, but are not foul-proof.



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