U program shines in attempt to teach children sun safety

by Beth Greshwalk

Children statewide are learning how to have it made in the shade when it comes to sun safety.
The SunSmart program, which began as a research project by University Design, Housing and Apparel faculty members, is now helping camp counselors promote sun safety at summer camps around the state.
The researchers designed a 25- minute program that presents the “key concepts of skin cancer prevention,” said design, housing and apparel professor Sherri Gahring, a member of the research team.
Six whimsical paper mache hats made by University design students are presented to the children. Each one represents a different sun-safety theme, Gahring said.
“The hats made it go over so well in getting the messages through,” Gahring said. “They were very well-received.”
One hat, titled “Made in the Shade,” looks like a sundial. It demonstrates that the sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
A hat called “Sleeves and Slacks and Caps with Flaps” teaches the importance of wearing protective clothing in the sun. Another hat, in the form of a large lobster, warns of the damage done by tanning on purpose, Gahring said.
“There has been a prevalence in the use of tanning booths,” said Karen LaBat, a design, housing and apparel professor who helped create the program. “What you hear is people who go south and tan first so they won’t burn. Research says a tan is a tan. Every time you produce the melanin, you damage your skin.”
Researchers chose to direct the program to fifth and sixth graders, before kids become teenagers and face stronger peer pressure to get a tan, LaBat said.
The program was first presented two years ago to 3,000 fifth and sixth graders in southern Minnesota.
A pretest was first administered to determine students’ attitudes about sun awareness. Question types included, “Is having a tan cool?”
“Our society thinks it’s cool,” Gahring said. “The media has promoted the attractive tan. (But) dermatologists say, ‘to tan the skin is to damage the skin.'”
Following the program, a post-test of questions similar to the pretest was given. Results showed an increase in the awareness of sun damage. Students also learned methods of sun protection as a result of SunSmart, LaBat said.
“We found that the program was very effective,” LaBat said. “There were a lot of visuals and participation. It was very fun.”
Gahring and LaBat agreed that the students enjoyed the program and said its goal is not to make kids afraid of the sun, but to make them cautious of its damaging effects.