Despite New Zealand having the highest rate of melanoma skin cancer in the world, an alarming number of Kiwis are not being sun smart.

And it seems more needs to be done – at a higher level or through bigger moves such as public campaigns – to encourage sun safety, a new study has found.

More than 2600 children and adults were observed in and around the Wellington region as part of a University of Otago study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today.

Members of the public were observed at beaches, playgrounds and outdoor pools between September 2014 and April 2015.

The results found 4.3 per cent of people wore a sun protective hat – either broad-brimmed, a bucket hat or legionnaire style, which includes a long flap that covers a wearer’s neck at the back.

A total of 10.7 per cent of people sought shelter at times when sun protection was warranted, the study found.

Ryan Gage, of the university’s department of public health, said previously, information about sun protection by Kiwis in recreational settings was only available in surveys.

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

Every year, nearly 90,000 skin cancers are diagnosed. Up to 500 Kiwis die from a form of skin cancer annually.

Most of diagnosed cancers were caused by a person being overexposed to the sun.

Gage, who worked alongside professor Louise Signal for the study, said New Zealand needed to look at moves being done in Australia, where sun safety programmes were heavily pushed publicly.

The SunSmart schools programme here in New Zealand was not enough to influence behaviours outside school grounds, for example, he said.

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

“We should learn from Australia and do more to encourage sun protection in general – both for children and adults.

“Sun burning is highly common in outdoor recreational areas and sun damage at any age contributes to skin cancer risk.”

Source: NZ Herald

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