Optometrists call on parents to adopt ‘no sunnies, no play’ rule this summer

Research shows that sixty per cent of children across New Zealand aren’t wearing sunglasses regularly enough.

New research has found that three in five (61 per cent) of Kiwi children under the age of 16 are not always wearing sunglasses outside during the day in summer, leading optometrist Karthi Param to urge parents and caregivers to adopt a ‘no sunnies, no play’ rule this January.

The research, commissioned by Specsavers, revealed that almost all (90 per cent) of children under 16 own a pair of sunglasses, but less than half of these (39 per cent) are always using them. Furthermore, nearly 1 in five (17 per cent) may not be fully protecting their eyes as their parents admitted the frames didn’t, or they were unsure if they did, have full UV protection.

Four in 10 parents (38 per cent) asked didn’t realise that children’s eyes were at more risk from UV exposure than adult’s eyes, and three in 10 (28 per cent) believed that a hat was enough protection from the sun.

With summer now well underway, Karthi warns that children can absorb more UV into their eyes because their pupils are larger, and the lens of their eyes is clearer. Studies have shown, however, that wearing sunglasses together with a wide-brimmed hat can reduce UV exposure by as much as 98 per cent.

Karthi believes that setting children up with good practices when they’re younger can help them to protect their eyes in later life.

“New Zealand has one of the highest levels of UV in the world, so it’s critical to encourage children to be sun safe and instil good behaviours when they’re younger so they set themselves up for life. Long term exposure to UV can lead to sight-threatening conditions such as macular degeneration, or even cancer.”

For children under the age of 10, the main barriers to consistent sunglass-wearing, according to parents, were parents/child forgetting (34 per cent), child finding them uncomfortable (32 per cent) and kids always taking them off (31 per cent). For older kids between 10-16, forgetting to put them on was the main barrier (37 per cent).

“As a parent myself, I understand how difficult it can be to get kids to wear, and keep wearing, their sunglasses, so having a simple ‘no sunnies, no play’ rule, just like with seat belts and driving, helps kids to know they can’t go outside and play without their sunglasses. Getting them into the habit of grabbing their sunnies whenever they leave the house is really important,” commented Param.

This includes remembering sunnies not only in well-known high sun exposure environments like the beach, but also during more incidental times, like in the car, when just 24 per cent said their child would always be wearing their sunglasses, and when walking to school, when 29 per cent would always wear them.

Karthi says that while the summer is a great time to remind parents and children of the importance of wearing their sunglasses, UV is present year-round and not just on blue sky days.

“We all need to be aware of UV, even when we’re only spending a short amount of time outside. Making sure you’re protecting your whole body including your eyes and being sun safe particularly from October to March is essential.

“Always practise sun-safe habits. The most important thing is to slip, slop, slap, seek and wrap. When you’re outside, slip on sun-protective clothing, slop on SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and wrap on sunglasses that provide UV protection,” says Param.

Specsavers Optometrists are encouraging all Kiwis to be sun smart this summer, and to visit an optometrist for a routine eye test or if they have any concerns about their eyes. At Specsavers, Kids Go Free, with a free eye test every two years for any child under the age of 16.

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