Children, sunburn and sport

7 Oct 2019  |   Michelle Baker

Every summer, thousands of children attend outdoor organised activity during half term and the long school holidays. As well as broadening their skills, getting them outdoors and away from their computers and phones, this provides parents with vital time to work or simply re-calibrate.

As well as providing a healthy packed lunch, water, and suitable clothing, parents also need to ensure they remember the right SPF level of sunscreen. Although this is a vital outdoor kit, it is surprising how many still find it confusing from what to supply, or how to ensure it is used during the day.

Should sunscreen be applied before you all leave or when you arrive at the venue, and what if you forget to bring it? How can you ensure they wear their caps or sunglasses and even apply sunscreen? Will they be asked to sit in the shade for lunch, or return home with a dreaded sunburn?

If this all sounds familiar you are not alone. Michelle Baker, CEO of the Melanoma Fund found herself in this familiar scenario when her son Finlay was 8 years old. Michelle used it as the inspiration for creating the Outdoor Kids Sun Safety Code, a national campaign, launched in 2014. It is now supported by over 120 national governing bodies of sport and overarching outdoor organisations, helping improve the provision of sun protection by all those who work outdoors with children.

Says Michelle; ‘I dropped my son off at a summer tennis camp one morning and politely asked the coach to ensure that he wore his hat and applied sunscreen at lunch. I was then provided with lots of reasons why they could not be responsible for that. There was the issue of touching children, allergies and time restraints and so many other excuses that I felt awkward pursuing it.

When I picked my son up, he indeed had a mild sunburn as predictable he hadn’t applied sunscreen, and as well as feeling frustrated and powerless, I felt determined that this was just not right. I discovered that there was no regulation in sport for sun protecting children and no official guidelines for those who work with children outdoors. Things had to change.”

Why parents should take action

Skin cancer is a global epidemic and it’s not going away. It is the fastest-growing cancer in the world and although many feel it’s ‘only skin cancer’ or it can ‘simply be cut out’, this is far from the truth. It only takes one sunburn in childhood to double the risk of melanoma in later life and who wants to subject our children’s skin to that risk, even once?

We can forget to apply sun protection when out and about in the UK or be led to think that our sun is not hot enough to do lasting damage (which is incorrect). As adults we have been programmed to believe that sunscreen is generally used only when on holidays abroad, however when children are out all day playing sport, such as cricket, athletics, football, golf or tennis, there is very often little shade and lots of reflective surfaces. This means they are right on the front line for UV damage for an entire day, which is very similar to being at the beach.

Getting parents working together with coaches and following the guidelines of the Outdoor Kids Sun Safety Code is a simple but effective way of helping everyone in sport, especially children with delicate skin, avoid sunburn and also develop good habits that will lower their risk of skin cancer in later years.

How it works

The Outdoor Kids Sun Safety Code is designed to support groups, clubs and individuals, offering up-to-date, professional guidelines, template policies, downloadable materials and an accreditation scheme to keep action consistent throughout summer. The campaign offers five 5 vital rules for anyone who works outdoor with children:

PREPARE: Ensure that everyone arrives ready for a day in the sun

PROTECT: Use clothing, hats/sunglasses and sunscreen (SPF30+) reapplied at breaks

SHADE: Avoid direct sunlight during lunch or whilst spectating others

HYDRATE: Ensure water is always available

LEAD BY EXAMPLE: Inspire children with your own actions

Julia Newton Bishop, Professor of Dermatology at the University of Leeds says; “DNA damage can be caused by repeated overexposure to UV light. Although sun exposure is important for health – it is how we make vitamin D – sunburn increases our risk of skin cancer so ensure children are protected, especially when out for prolonged periods, and educated on the risks by adults who lead by example.”

If you are a parent of a sporty outdoor child, pass this information onto their outdoor activity supplier, and ensure you are helping do all you can to keep their skin healthy for years to come.