Protection From the Sun
Many American schools have dress codes barring tank tops, short shorts, and other clothing deemed inappropriately revealing because too much skin could distract from learning. In Australian schools, dress codes encourage kids to cover up, too, but-in this case-it's to hide from the sun. Students are encouraged to wear wide-brimmed hats, clothes made from closely woven cotton, and long sleeves, long skirts, and long pants. Sunscreen is as necessary a school supply as three-ring binders and pencils are to American students.
The reason: Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world-1 out of 2 Aussies will develop the disease. Every year, about 160,000 new cases are diagnosed, and 1,200 people die from it.
Research has shown that exposure to the sun during childhood is a big factor in the development of skin cancer later in life. Risk factors specific to Down Under that contribute to high rates of sun damage are the prevalence of light skin among a large proportion of the population and widespread exposure to the sun during peak times of ultraviolet radiation.
Australian schools are encouraged to become accredited "SunSmart" schools, under the National SunSmart Program, instituted by the Cancer Council Australia. An essential part of the school curriculum is intended to make students aware of the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. The school must also increase shaded areas on its campus and reschedule outdoor activities to lower UV times of the day.
St. Augustine's Parish Primary School in Queensland, for instance, says that it will build shelters and plant trees to increase shade on its school grounds and have teachers perform random hat checks. The teachers will enforce a "no hat, no play" rule. Schools also are encouraged to keep sunscreen handy, and students are given opportunities to put it on 20 minutes before the lunch break and other outdoor activities.
However, while skin cancer is also a problem in the United States, don't expect similar, uniform measures to be instituted anytime soon. States vary widely in how much sunlight they get-consider Alaska and Florida. And while most Australians are light-skinned, Americans come in diverse skin colors and vulnerability to the sun's harmful rays.
This story appears in the March 26, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.