A war has been declared to sunbaths and now tan is no longer fashionable, pallor yes …
In Australian cities you see men wearing wide-brimmed hats and ladies casually walking using the umbrella to get shade (in an etymologically correct way, as umbrella comes from Latin ‘umbra’, meaning shadow). In the beautiful Australian beaches and on the surf the bikinis are rare while shirts and caps are prevailing instead.
It is the interesting result of a very well managed campaign, which in a few years has deeply changed the behavior of a whole nation, and its aesthetic paradigms. It’s really a lesson worth to be learnt.
It all started from the analysis of epidemiological data on the incidence of skin cancers.
The risk of skin cancer in Australia is very high for a combination of factors, including the large prevalence of days with perfectly blue sky, the open air life style, the large percentage of the population with a quite pale skin.
The data are abundant and all consistent: for example, skin cancer is diagnosed in two out of three people in their first 70 years of age and melanoma (the most dangerous of skin cancers) hits a woman every 24, a man every 14.
The incidence is higher for elders but the effect is remarkable also in young people, since between 15 and 29 years old patiens melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosis.
From an epidemiological emergency to an economic one the step is short: for instance skin cancer is the topic of almost one million visits of Australian primary care physicians and the cost of skin cancer treatment is by far the most important one in the state budget of oncological therapies.
The Cancer Council, the largest non-governmental organization for the prevention and treatment of tumors active in all Australian states, decided to take action with great energy, launching a nationwide ‘SunSmart’ campaign aimed to skin cancer prevention.
Since habits are taken when you are a kid, the first moves of the Cancer Council targeted children, teaching them how to protect themselves from the sun, with the idea to reach parents and grandparents through them.
All the possible channels were exploited: the school, first of all, with lessons in all classes. But also the leisure time, through the distribution of comics, the creation of the ‘Sid the Seagull’ character, and the refrain “Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat, Seek shade & Slide on sunglasses”.
Obviously, great coverage through television programs and strong involvement of social media, without forgetting newspapers and magazines.
An app has been created and widely promoted, which provides to the geo-localized user information on the real time value of ultraviolet irradiation, recommends the use of sunscreen and calculates the amount of the vitamin D synthesized by the skin as a function of sun exposure.
Many volunteers, all wearing the yellow Cancer Council T-shirts with slogans and mascots, are engaged in the seaside resorts and in major summer events offering free generous sprinklings of high protection sun screen to everybody.
The Cancer Council plays a strong lobbying activity with the state and federal governments with several achievements, like when they convinced the State of South Australia to outlaw and close by decree all the solariums, which are now banned also in other five Australian states.
The work done in these years has achieved a lot, in particular in changing an entrenched habit of the population.
However, the fight must go on and on for many other years before getting some real and measurable result on the epidemiological trends because the time elapsing between the excess of UV irradiation and the evidence of the disease is very long.
Unfortunately, the tumor incidence in older people keeps steadily growing in spite of all the efforts, but the first satisfaction is arriving from the data of people younger than 45 years: the skin tumors incidence has stopped growing and in some geographical areas there is even a slight decline.