19 November 2018

Report links age to children's sun risk

WA parents’ vigilance at ensuring their children are “sun safe” before venturing outdoors has been found to fade significantly as children approach the latter stages of childhood.

A report into the Health and Wellbeing of Children in Western Australia has revealed that children aged 10 to 15 years get sunburnt at almost twice the rate of five to nine year olds and at more than five times the rate of under-fives.

But they were also found to be far less likely than their younger counterparts to have parents who ensured they were adequately protected from the sun.

Up to the age of five, 65.3 per cent of children had parents and carers who always ensured they were sun safe, a figure similar to that for children aged five to nine years (63.3 per cent).

But for children aged 10 to 15 years, that figure drops sharply to 41.6 per cent.

The report also found that the group’s mean number of times sunburnt in the past 12 months was 2.7, compared with 1.6 for the five to nines and 0.5 for the under-fives.

Western Australia's Chief Health Officer Dr Andrew Robertson described the decline in parental vigilance as unfortunate given that childhood sunburn increased a person’s risk of developing skin cancer and the report’s finding that the frequency of sunburn during childhood increased with age.

“In Australia, sun exposure is responsible for about 99 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95 per cent of melanoma skin cancers,” Dr Robertson said.

 “But almost all skin cancers are preventable if people protect themselves from the sun’s damaging rays through simple measures such as applying an SPF 30+ sunscreen and wearing protective clothing, including a hat.”

Findings of the Health and Wellbeing of Children in Western Australia 2017 report are based on computer-assisted telephone interviews with almost 800 parents and carers of children up to the age of 15 years.

These interviews were conducted between January and December as part of Western Australia’s Health and Wellbeing Surveillance System, a continuous data collection initiated in 2002 to monitor the health status of the general population.

Other key findings from the 2017 report include:

  • Approximately two in five children aged 5 to 15 years (39.4 per cent) were completing sufficient levels of physical activity for good health.
  • The prevalence of children living in a smoke-free home has increased significantly from 90.5 per cent in 2002 to 99.3 per cent in 2017.
  • The prevalence of children who were the product of a pregnancy in which neither parent smoked has increased significantly, from 66.1 per cent in 2005 to 89.5 per cent in 2017.
  • The prevalence of children ever treated for an emotional or mental health problem in 2017 was 8.3 per cent, significantly higher than in 2002 when it was just three per cent.
  • Approximately one third (35.8 per cent) of children had been bullied in the previous 12 months.


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