A shortage of shade in playgrounds is putting children at risk of sunburn and skin cancer if they are not wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, and increased shade is urgently needed, researchers say.
Otago University researchers looked at shade cover in 50 playgrounds in the Wellington region between January and February 2017, and found that 95 per cent of play equipment and 65 per cent of seats and tables had no shade cover.
Average shade cover was approximately a quarter of that found in Australian playgrounds, where trees and built shade over playgrounds are more common, the researchers say.
Lead researcher Ryan Gage says the study highlights the need for children and their parents to ensure they are protected from the sun this summer.
At this time of year between 10am and 4pm, the sun is strong enough to cause skin damage, he said.
"We found that Wellington playgrounds have insufficient shade available. Increased shade is urgently needed to protect children from harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure, by planting trees with heavy foliage and building structures with large, protective roofing."
The researchers used a Solarmeter to calculate the proportion of UVR blocked by each built structure and tree.
"Our study shows that many children in playgrounds are in full exposure to the sun. This puts them at risk of sunburn and skin cancer if they are not wearing sunscreen and/ or protective clothing," Mr Gage said.
Providing effective shade in summer recreation spaces may help to reduce children's risk of skin cancer, he said.
"New Zealanders are at the highest risk of melanoma skin cancer in the world. Each year, nearly 70,000 skin cancers are diagnosed and 500 New Zealanders die from skin cancer."
The researchers stressed the importance for Kiwis to follow the SunSmart advice: "Slip on a shirt with long sleeves, slop on some sunscreen (about 1 teaspoon to each arm and leg), slap on a wide-brim hat and wrap on close-fitting sunglasses," when outdoors this summer, and to seek shade when it is available.
Approximately 90 per cent of skin cancers are linked with excessive sun exposure and forming lifelong sun protection habits is crucial for preventing skin cancer, Mr Gage said.