(Reuters Health) - Kids in daycare may not always learn about sun safety because their teachers are more focused on lessons about healthy food choices, brushing teeth and getting plenty of exercise, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers surveyed 202 administrators, managers and teachers at Head Start and other daycare centers in Illinois in July, a time of year when kids are apt to be exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Overall, when participants ranked their top priorities for teaching toddlers and preschoolers healthy habits, good nutrition came first, followed by exercise, and brushing teeth. Less than one in five respondents listed bike helmets, vaccinations or sun protection as top priorities.
“The seasonal shift in sun intensity in Illinois means that sun safety receives less attention than health promotion activities that apply all year such as good nutrition, adequate exercise and brushing teeth,” said senior study author Dr. June Robinson of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
While about half of the daycare programs did provide sunscreen for students, 77 percent of these programs didn’t allow kids to apply the sunscreen themselves, researchers report in JAMA Dermatology.
It’s possible some daycare centers were following state regulations that apply to students starting in elementary school, which classify sunscreen as an over-the-counter medication that can only be applied by a school nurse with a doctor’s prescription, Robinson said by email. Daycare centers aren’t bound by these regulations, but it might still influence their decisions, Robinson said.
About half of the programs, however, used spray sunscreens to avoid unnecessarily touching children. This may be one way to help more children get protection, Robinson said by email.
“In the past, touching children, which is prohibited out of concerns about child abuse, prevented the application of the lotion type of sunscreen,” Robinson said.
Head Start programs were more likely to use spray sunscreen than other daycare centers, the study found. Often, programs that did use sprays failed to avoid spraying sunscreen directly on kids’ faces, which can cause children to inhale it or get it in their eyes and isn’t the correct way to apply this product.
Most programs did not report children having any sunburns, and most also followed guidelines for keeping kids out of the sun during when the heat index is too high.
One limitation of the study is that it only examined daycare centers in Illinois, and it’s possible the results would be different in places with other regulations regarding sunblock application in schools or different seasonal weather, the authors note.
Still, the results highlight a need to raise awareness about the need for sun protection for kids in early childhood programs, said Dr. Henry Lim, president of the American Academy of Dermatology and senior vice president for academic affairs at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan.
“It is totally appropriate and understandable that top concerns were good nutrition, adequate exercise, brushing teeth and wearing seat belts, but teachers need to be educated about the long term side effects of sun exposure,” Lim, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “Aside from sunburn, teachers obviously would not observe the skin aging and skin cancers in their students; therefore, education is needed.”
Parents can also help make sun safety a priority, said Mary Tripp of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
“Parents can apply sunscreen lotion to children before they go to school and provide sunscreen for teachers to use at school,” Tripp, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“Parents also can provide wide-brimmed hats and other protective clothing such as shirts with longer sleeves for their children to use at school,” Tripp added. “By practicing sun protection themselves, parents can role model these behaviors for their children, which is critical in helping children develop these healthy habits at a young age.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2BPYcR9 JAMA Dermatology, online January 24, 2018.