Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Slow Burn

In the 1920s, French fashion designer Coco Chanel inadvertently started a trend when she was photographed with a suntan. Previously dismissed as the badge of farmers and laborers, suntans suddenly became the emblem of luxury and leisure, and everyone wanted one. Nearly a century later, tanning is still popular. Despite all the research linking sun overexposure to skin cancer, the tanning industry continues to grow, and grosses about $5 billion annually. What’s wrong with this picture?

Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, is associated with the development of cataracts, premature aging of the skin, suppression of the immune system, and the development of skin cancer. Experts state that the best protection against developing any of these conditions is to practice basic sun safety – wear sunscreen, avoid intense sunlight between the peak hours of 10am and 4pm, wear appropriate clothing such as sunglasses, hats, and long-sleeved clothing, and avoid sunburns. Australia instituted a public health campaign several decades ago entitled “Slip, Slop, Slap” to encourage residents to slip on a shirt, slop on sunblock, and slap on a hat. The campaign has been very successful, and has been adopted by New Zealand and some Canadian provinces.

Sunlight, in moderation, is good for human health. It’s still the best way to absorb vitamin D; the nutrient is necessary for many health benefits, and is believed to inhibit some forms of cancer. Yet the vast majority of people engage in suntanning not for any type of health benefit, but for purely cosmetic reasons – they like the way it looks. Teens are particularly vulnerable to the allure of tans, as many of the “celebrities” that they take an interest in, such as the Kardashian sisters and the cast of reality show “Jersey Shore”, strut around bronzed and oiled. As educators, how do we get the message across that tanning really is dangerous to your health?

The resources that I’ve selected this week all highlight the dangers of sun overexposure using hands-on experiments or activities.  Younger students can use solar beads to detect UV rays and watch them turn color as they are exposed to sunlight, while older students research skin cancer risk factors, sunscreen effectiveness, and create public service announcements for their peers, alerting them to the risks of UV light exposure in tanning. Skin cancers are largely preventable, and the persistent trend in tanning via sun exposure and tanning beds is distressing. Educating students of all ages about the risks of tanning is time well spent, and may one day save their lives.

Exploring Solar Beads
Subjects: Science
Grade: K-6
This activity uses solar beads to detect ultraviolet light and radiation. This is a good activity to help teach kids about the harmful effect of UV light and possible melanoma. This activity was created by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which offers energy-related stories, lesson plans, research articles, and other activities for teachers.

Subjects: Health, Biology, Social Studies
Grade: 6-8
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. and Canada. In this lesson, students will research and identify skin cancer risk factors, identify causes of melanoma and preventative measures to avoid it, and explain the dangers of overexposure to ultraviolet sun rays. Students will then create public service announcements directed at youth audiences. This resource was produced by CNN, which offers student news and education resources in addition to global news.

Protect the Skin You’re In
Subjects: Health, Biology, Social Studies
Grade: 9-12
This lesson is designed for a high school biology, anatomy, or health class to explore the importance of sun safety in relationship to skin cancer prevention. Students will begin with an inquiry based lab regarding sunscreen effectiveness. After analyzing the relationship between lab results and common student practices regarding sun screen use, students will administer and analyze a simple survey to their peers. This lesson will culminate with students developing and implementing a public service campaign designed to increase student use of sunscreen and sun safety awareness. In order for these activities to be most effective, the students should have prior knowledge of skin cancer. This lesson is a product of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which offers up-to-the-minute health information and lots of resources for teachers and students.

~Joann's Picks - July 7, 2011~

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