Parents' '˜relaxed' attitude to kids' sun safety

Parents in the UK have what is described as a 'worryingly relaxed' attitude to their children's safety as far as skin cancer is concerned, according to a new survey.

Sun safety
Sun safety

New research by the Met Office in conjunction with the NHS England #CoverUpMate skin cancer campaign has revealed many parents of young children are failing to protect their offspring from sunburn.

Childhood sun damage has been strongly linked to the development of skin cancer in later years, making it a vital time for parents to ensure their children are protected.

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However, the study – conducted amongst 1,000 parents with children aged 11 and under – revealed that one in 14 parents (7 per cent) admit they have NEVER applied sunscreen to their children.

And despite around half of those surveyed (47 per cent) understanding that suntans are a sign of UV ray damage, over a third (37 per cent) incorrectly believe that suntans are a sign of good health.

Also, a quarter of parents with children aged 11 and under have encouraged them to get a tan, with one in ten parents of children aged 2-7 admitting they have encouraged them to sunbathe.

And 7 per cent of parents of children aged 6-11 have even allowed their youngsters to use a sunbed.

10 per cent of parents with children aged 11 and under even admit they have told their children to take their top off in the sunshine so they don’t get tan lines.

The Met Office do believe that the figures can in some ways be explained by a lack of knowledge amongst parents of the damage the sun can inflict - pointing out that the survey also found that 7 per cent of parents do not know that UV rays make you burn and have strong links to cancer.

Examples given included the 15 per cent who do not know you can still be exposed to UV rays on cool or cloudy days, while almost half incorrectly believe you can feel UV rays when the sun is strong (you cannot feel UV rays). And over one in five did not realise that the risk from UV rays is greatest between May and September

And evidence that children are having their skin damaged was offered by the parents directly - more than one in five (21 per cent) parents with under-12s said they wait until their child starts to visibly burn (i.e. turn pink) before they would decide to apply any sunscreen.

Seventeen per cent of children 11 and under have experienced ‘painful’ sunburn four or more times in the past two years, and four per cent of parents admitted their child has been sunburned so severely, they had to be admitted to hospital.

Clare Nasir, Met Office presenter and meteorologist, said: “As a sun-savvy mum, the findings are really worrying. Young children can’t be expected to apply their own sunscreen – they are unlikely to do it thoroughly, or forgo it completely. Protecting against skin cancer isn’t something parents should leave to chance.

“UV levels are usually highest between May and September. Clouds don’t always stop UV rays, and unlike the sun’s warmth, it’s difficult to know when they may be harming you. You can protect yourself and your family by checking the UV forecast on the Met Office app.”

Nigel Acheson, NHS England South Region Medical Director, said: “It’s important that parents take extra care to protect their babies and children. Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, and damage caused by repeated exposure to UV could lead to skin cancer developing in later life. If the Met Office UV forecast is moderate or high, children aged under six months should spend time in the shade and out of direct sunlight – particularly from 11am to 3pm.

“We should all remember to cover up with suitable clothing and wear sunscreen with a good UV-A protection. If you’re unsure please visit the NHS Choices website at for the latest sun safety advice.”