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Make Sun Safety an Issue with Daycare Providers
JUNE 1996 -- You trust day-care providers to keep your kids from falling off sliding boards or running into the street, but can you trust them to protect children from sunburn and its long-term health consequences?
No, says a study at the University of Illinois at Chicago that found sun protection wasn't a priority for most of the 166 employees at 16 suburban day-care centers around Chicago. Therefore, according to the National Cancer Institute-funded study, most of the 1,825 2- to 6-year-olds attending them got little help with sunscreen.
"If a parent made a point of bringing sunscreen in for the kid and gave it to the staff, then the staff would make a point of putting it on that child," says Robin Mermelstein, associate professor of psychology and the study's director. "However they, by and large, had no policy or procedures for systematically protecting all kids."
Day-care centers usually take children outside between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., the most intense periods of sunshine. But the UIC study found an average of only 2.5 bottles of sunscreen for an average of 104 children per center. At the majority of the centers, none of the children had sunscreen put on them and at about one quarter of the centers, fewer than half of the kids wore sunscreen.
Despite manufacturers' directions to apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before exposure, 89 percent of the kids got sunscreen less than 20 minutes before they went outside and for 6 percent the sunscreen didn't go on until after they were outside.
In addition, most of the centers didn't make sure that children wore protective clothing. Among children observed, 95 percent didn't wear hats and 26 percent were allowed outside without shirts on.
Why target day-care centers? Mermelstein says one reason is that more children attend them; another has to do with the danger posed to kids by the sun.
"One of the most important risk factors for melanoma, which is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer, is sunburns prior to age five," Mermelstein says. "So, protecting children at a very early age is very critical."