Why Should Schools Care About Skin Cancer?
Cancer of the skin is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States and perhaps the most preventable. Melanoma and non-melanoma cancers, including basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer, account for as much as 50% of all cancers. Because the reporting of non-melanoma cancers to cancer registries is not required, the exact number of non-melanoma cancer cases is not known. However, estimates indicate that as many as 1 million cases of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer occur each year. 2 2 American Cancer Society.
Melanoma, which accounts for only about 5% of skin cancer cases, also accounts for 79% of skin cancer deaths. From 1973 and through the early eighties, the incidence rate of melanoma among white men and women in the United States increased by about 6% per year. Since the early eighties, the increase has been around 3% annually. Approximately 55,100 new melanomas were diagnosed in the United States in 2004, and about 7,910 people died of melanoma that same year.3
Almost all of these cancers are preventable. In most cases, exposure to solar UV radiation is the cause of the cancer. Using multiple methods for estimating the incidence of melanoma that might be attributable to exposure to the sun, Armstrong and Kricker, reporting in Melanoma Research, suggest that between 68% and 90% of all melanomas result from exposure to UV radiation.5
There are many reasons that a school might want to improve the quality and increase the amount of accessible shade on school grounds. The most obvious and one of the most important reasons is that shade provides protection from solar UV radiation. Due to the scheduling complexities of physical education classes, sporting events, and other outdoor activities, students are often exposed to solar UV radiation during the peak sun hours of the day—between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. For some schools and for some students, using sun protective methods, such as hats or sunscreen, or implementing policy changes could prove to be problematic. Providing shade in areas where students already participate in outdoor activities can afford passive protection from the sun’s damaging rays.
What Are the Additional Benefits of Shade?
Extending the Classroom Schools are often looking for ways to extend their classrooms. Two strategies for increasing shade on school grounds can also help schools create novel classroom experiences for their students. These strategies may be employed independently or in concert.
The first is to modify existing structures or build new ones to provide shade where students play and socialize.
The second calls for the strategic planting of additional shade-producing trees, vines, and shrubs. Structures built to provide shade can also be designed as covered outdoor learning areas, thereby extending the classroom beyond the school walls. Planting shade-producing vegetation affords schools the opportunity to create and maintain natural outdoor classrooms where students can enjoy hands-on experiences in the natural world.
Both strategies could potentially provide teachers with new ideas for curricula and new reasons to take their students outdoors. 3 Shade Planning for America’s Schools Extended Periods of Physical Activity In adults, regular physical activity is linked to enhanced health and reduced risk for the development of many chronic diseases. Lifelong physical activity patterns are often developed in childhood and adolescence. In the section on preventing physical activity related injuries in CDC’s Guidelines for School and Community Programs to Promote Lifelong Physical Activity Among Young People, the use of shaded spaces or indoor facilities to reduce the incidence of heat-related illnesses is recommended. Not all schools have indoor facilities designed for active play; however, providing shade on existing outdoor play areas could reduce the temperature in those areas by as much as 10° to 20 °, increasing the period of time that students could engage in active outdoor play.
School Grounds Aesthetics All too often, school grounds are an environment of concrete, asphalt, steel, turf grass, and chain link fences. In planning strategies to provide or increase shade on school grounds, schools have a second chance to improve the aesthetics of the school property, making the grounds more inviting to students, teachers, staff, parents, and visitors.
A well planned shade implementation project engages the entire school community in making the school a more pleasant place to learn.