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Students of St Peters Catholic School   Photo: St Peters Catholic School, Cambridge NZ

About 40 childcare centres and kindergartens in Victoria have mandated the use of sunglasses when children are outside.

Cancer Council Australia figures show that dozens of Australian primary schools have included sunglasses in their school uniform, and some are moving towards making them compulsory when students are outside.

This complements the widespread ‘no hat, no play’ rule, which dictates that students are not allowed outside without their hat in spring and summer.

Optometry Australia uncovered the statistics after a New Zealand primary school became the first in that country to add sunglasses to its uniform. They are optional so students can be eased into wearing sunglasses that cost less than $10 due to subsidy by a national optometry co-operative Visique.

Parent Breda Plant, a nurse, was aware of the damage UV light did to children’s eyes so approached St Peter’s Catholic School in Cambridge. After a huge positive response in a parent survey, the school board adopted the policy.

Principal Debra White said many students had bought the sunglasses and during the launch week teachers discussed why it was important for students to protect their eyes.

‘The benefits of protecting their eyes far outweigh the risk of losing the odd pair of sunglasses,’ she said. ‘We have been so vigilant over the years with protecting children’s skin; however, their eyes are just as vulnerable.’

In Victoria, more than 2,000 early childhood services, covering more than 190,000 children and 81 per cent of services state-wide, are members of Cancer Council Victoria’s SunSmart Early Childhood Program.

Co-ordinator Justine Osborne said that in 2013, two per cent of program members (correlating to about 40 centres) enforced use of sunglasses by children and 98 per cent encouraged use.

Chairwoman of Cancer Council Australia’s Skin Cancer Committee Vanessa Rock said the council recommended schools encourage students to wear Australian Standard sunglasses when exposed to UV radiation whenever practical, as part of its SunSmart Schools Program.

The council had little data on the number of schools encouraging or enforcing this, but a survey by the council of 1,557 schools with students from primary up to year 10 found that 46 (three per cent) of schools surveyed included sunglasses in their uniform. Extrapolated nationwide, this correlates to 229 primary schools including sunglasses in their uniform at the time of the 2011 survey.

While the council encouraged wearing close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses that met the Australian Standard whenever practical, they were not mandatory, Ms Rock said.

‘Only four per cent of schools surveyed in the 2011 “Sun protection and practices in Australian primary schools survey” reported that they actively encouraged the wearing of sunglasses, although most allowed them to be worn,’ Ms Rock said. ‘Five per cent did not allow students to wear sunglasses.’

Ms Rock said the council was aware that a small number of schools were moving towards compulsory use.

‘We are aware that it’s not always practical to enforce sunglasses use, so it is up to each school to decide what is most appropriate for them. Sunglasses can be expensive and students can break or lose them.’

Studies suggest that about half of a person’s UV exposure occurs before the age of 20 years.

The World Health Organization says UV is estimated to cause 20 per cent of cataracts.

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In the spirit of reconciliation Optometry Australia acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.