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Enabling shady behaviour

shady behaviourEnabling shady behaviour -- the kind that can reduce overexposure to the UV rays from the sun is something we all need to be concerned about. In Nova Scotia, this is not necessarily the case, particularly at this time of year. Damp foggy spring days have many of us longing for sunshine and warmth so we can enjoy outdoor activities like the backyard barbecue,  a game of tag or an afternoon of gardening. Sun safety, as summer approaches, is a hard sell and the role of shade for sun protection is certainly not top of mind for most … unless you are a member of the Sun Safe Nova Scotia coalition.

“While some might argue that we see less than our share of sun, Nova Scotia continues to have among the highest incidence rates of skin cancer in Canada ” said Dr. Laura Finlayson, Head of Dermatology at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and IWK Health Centre and Chair of Sun Safe Nova Scotia coalition. “Overexposure to the UV rays from the sun can lead to sun burn, increase the risk of skin cancer, cause premature aging of the skin, eye damage and weaken the immune system. By working with organizations and agencies responsible for early childhood development, and sport and recreation in our province, our coalition is raising awareness of this important health issue. Organizations are adopting sun safety policies that integrate sun safety with the tremendous health benefits of outdoor physical activity. One of the  emerging challenges faced by those working on sun safety, however, is the availability of shade.”

In March 2010, 64 individuals from a range of organizations attended a workshop, Enabling Shady Behaviour … where our children live, learn and play. The goal of the event was to provide an opportunity for learning, resource sharing, dialogue and understanding of the need and potential for shade in areas where children and their caregivers frequent.

“We invited people from a variety of sectors because we need a broad perspective on creative ways to incorporate shade while encouraging our children to be active and enjoy the outdoors,” said Judy Purcell, Prevention Coordinator, Cancer Care Nova Scotia and Facilitator for the Sun Safe Nova Scotia. “Everyone has a role to play in championing a safe, healthy environment for our children.”

Attendance at the workshop suggests that many agree they have a role to play in moving the shade agenda forward. Participants included representatives from  early childhood development, public health and health promotion, recreation, education, environment, parks, landscape design, and cancer control. Community groups like urban gardens also attended. 

A number of potential action steps were identified. Among them were: working with school boards across the province to begin the discussion around policy development for sun safety and shade; engaging municipalities, landscape architects and designers so sun protection is on their radar when planning and designing parks and other outdoor recreation spaces; and promoting the value of shade to all Nova Scotians as one means of sun protection.

“I was and continue to be excited by the level of interest in this topic,” said Judy.  Participants could relate the shade agenda to their work in childcare settings, in recreation settings and how it links to outdoor play and learning. The  environmental community see the link to the green movement, the importance of trees in our communities and recreational settings. And of course those working in cancer control and health see the link between shade and skin cancer risk.”

The broad range of discussions during the workshop indicate that shade is an important issue in Nova Scotia and that it is  important to different people for different reasons. The workshop was a great first step to get people talking, sharing and learning from each other. The Sun Safe Nova Scotia coalition is now challenged with maintaining this momentum and prioritizing the many ideas generated at the workshop to move them forward.