Since 2006, SSI Faculty Affiliate Myles Cockburn of the Department of Preventive Medicine and the Joint Educational Project (JEP) have collaborated on SunSmart, a sun safety and skin cancer prevention program targeted to school children in grades 4-8. Developed by Professor Myles Cockburn and clinical colleagues at Keck School of Medicine, the program teaches children about the risks of too much sun and offers them a variety of ways to reduce and limit their exposure. Taught by USC undergraduates participating in JEP, the program has reached more than 800 children from 11 local schools to date.
Melanoma, the least common but most deadly form of skin cancer, is a significant public health issue, according to Dr. Cockburn. Because excessive exposure to UV radiation and a history of sunburns in childhood is associated with the development of melanoma in adulthood, school-age children are important targets for sun protection education. The need for primary prevention programs to promote sun safety for children is heightened in Southern California, where high levels of UV radiation and a rising incidence of melanoma in white and Hispanic populations indicate epidemic proportions.
“In California, we’re seeing a troubling trend in an increased incidence of melanoma that can’t be explained by more accurate screening and diagnosis,” said Cockburn. “And while still rare, the disease is becoming more common in Latinos, an important population for our outreach through SunSmart.”
To teach SunSmart, JEP students are trained and then assigned to USC-affiliated elementary and middle schools where they team-teach three one-hour long workshops about sun protection. Topics include the importance of using sunscreen, wearing a hat and other sun-protective clothing, and limiting sun exposure during the middle of the day when UV radiation levels are highest. Additionally, JEP students help collect data to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in increasing children’s knowledge about sun safety and stimulating behavior change.
Sneha Tambat, a Master’s student in Global Medicine at Keck who participated in JEP as an undergraduate, believes that raising awareness about the importance of UV protection is a critical issue for children in Los Angeles. “I absolutely loved my experience teaching SunSmart through JEP’s Health for Life program,” she said. “Connecting with the local community and teaching kids how to practice sun safe behaviors is exactly what we should be doing as preventive medicine professionals.”
Article reprinted from JEP Spring 2011 Newsletter, by Kimberly Miller, Project Specialist, Department of Preventive Medicine.