New project to tackle tanning perceptions in young people, offering crucial boost to sun-safety education in Wales

A Swansea University-led project hopes to help stop the concerning rise of skin cancer in Wales by exploring current perceptions of tanning in children, parents/carers, and educators. The results will support the development of a new sun-safety educational toolkit for the Welsh curriculum.
Skin cancer now accounts for half of all cancers in England and Wales, though many, including 86% of melanomas, can be prevented with safer sun exposure.

Despite continuing advice to avoid intentional sunbathing, the public, including children, often has positive views of tanned skin for health or appearance.
Skin and cancer specialists agree there is no such thing as a ‘safe tan’, highlighting the importance of understanding and addressing the reasons behind this misconception.

To date, no work has been done in Wales to study the thoughts of children, their parents and educators on tanning and how healthier attitudes can be encouraged and adopted from a young age.

SunChat: SUN Safety Conversations about Healthy Attitudes to Tanning is using existing networks and school partners to explore this subject through:

1. Workshops with schoolchildren aged 5 to 8 in Healthy School Clubs to understand their perceptions of tanning and their existing sun-safety habits. Activities include colouring, role-play, drawing, collage techniques, videos and posters.

2. An online multiple-choice survey with parents and carers of primary school children to better understand their perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours towards tanning, both for themselves and their children.

3. An informal online focus group with primary school educators to not only understand their current perceptions of tanning but also explore challenges in engaging with the school community in the Curriculum for Wales.

Funded by the Morgan Advanced Studies Institute (MASI), SunChat is a collaboration between Swansea University’s Department of Education and Childhood Studies, the Swansea Trials Unit, and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

Dr Julie Peconi of Swansea University Medical School, one of the lead researchers for SunChat, said: “We know that overexposure to the sun as a child greatly increases the risk of skin cancer in later life, making early and accessible sun safety education and promotion of sun-safe behaviours key.

“Through SunChat, we hope to raise awareness of the importance of challenging and changing the common assumption that having a tan is desirable. The Curriculum for Wales, with its designated area for Health and Well-being and autonomy for schools in designing curriculum, is the ideal opportunity to support schools in empowering and educating children to become healthy and informed adults, alleviating unnecessary pressure on future NHS dermatology services and care.”

Project co-lead Dr Gisselle Tur Porres of Swansea University School of Social Sciences added: “We take the known problem of skin cancer and address it in a novel way by engaging directly with children through creative activities to facilitate and prioritise their participation.”

More details of the SunChat project have recently been published in the journal PLOS ONE – “Exploring perceptions of and attitudes towards tanning with school children, parents/carers and educators in Wales: A mixed methods study protocol for the SunChat study”.

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