Increase sun protection of students

NOTE: This is the unedited version of the article that was published on the Shenzhen Daily on July 17, 2017.

As an Australian, I have long had the recommendations of protecting my skin while out in the sun.

For many years, primary schools across Australia have enforced a “no hat, no play” rule for their students. In its simplest form, if a student is not wearing a hat, they cannot play outside. Parents have traditionally been big supporters of this rule, and it has rarely caused problems at schools across Australia.

The essential message has long been “Slip, Slop, Slap”… meaning slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. The message started in the early 1980s, and has since evolved into including seeking shade or shelter and sliding on some sunglasses.

In general, these messages have been seen as a massive success, with many forms of skin cancer reducing, although melanomas have been increasing. The campaigns are well supported in Australia, and the general thinking behind it has led to similar campaigns targeted at young adults, adults, sports clubs and various other organizations..

The reason I have written this article is that I do not see any such effort made for Chinese students. Given the recent hot weather in the last two months of the school year, as well as the first few months of the next school year, students will be asked to perform physical exercise in the school yard at times when the sun is out the most, particularly in Shenzhen.

It is my belief that such an educational campaign would be easy to implement and could operate over a series of years, at minimal expense to educational bureaus across the country. At first, it could start with the introduction of a hat as part of the primary school uniform, and a strictly enforced rule that if the student has not brought their hat with them to school, they cannot play outside. Such a hat does not have to be expensive – it can be a simple cap with a flap that covers the back of the neck.

From there, schools could be required to have sunscreen in each classroom – perhaps in an area that only the teachers can access. Surely, large bottles of good quality sunscreen, if bought by educational bureaus, would come at a significant discount.

After that, the educational process of teaching children why this is happening and the importance of looking after their skin can commence. The idea of white skin being beautiful for Chinese women already exists, so such thinking could be incorporated into the educational process. While this may not work so well for the young boys, I am sure that there are ways that an appropriate message could be crafted to impress this issue on them.

As time progresses, schools could invest in shade coverings for playgrounds. I personally hope that there will be a point where young Chinese people buy sunglasses not because they are cool, but because they will protect their eyes. I have been wearing sunglasses since I was about 15 years old, and while I do not care for the brand, I do care about certain specific qualities within certain types of sunglasses.

It is my belief that this is a simple policy that would be cheap to implement and would have positive, far reaching benefits for children across China. Furthermore, the potential reduction in the number of people needing to go to hospital for skin cancer issues is a reduced cost for the Chinese central government, which is a further benefit to society as a whole.

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