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Lesson from Australia: slip, slop, slap!

Australia is often referred to as the ultraviolet (UV) capital of the world. 

Each year, Australia receives heavy doses of UV light from the sun. Broadly, this is down to three things: 

  • The country’s proximity to the equator;
  • Its position in the Southern Hemisphere putting it closer to the sun during summertime compared to other geographies; and 
  • The fact it has a high proportion of clear, blue-sky days. 

In combination, that’s a pretty lethal UV cocktail. 

And as we know, mainstream science now accepts that there’s a connection between skin cancer and ultraviolet light exposure. 

Also read:  Every man under the sun pay close attention to these stats

Melanoma in Australia

To give you a sense of things, melanoma frequency in Australia was measured at 58 new cases per 100,000 people in 2018 according to World Health Organisation (WHO) data. By comparison, the same measure was 22 cases per 100,000 people in the United States. So, melanoma is 2.6x more common in Australia than in the USA. That’s what makes melanoma the 4th most common cancer in Australia, accounting for 7% of all cancers.  In the USA, melanoma is the 7th most common cancer, accounting for 3% of all cancers. 

You can quickly see how skin cancer became, and still is, a major public health concern for the Australian government. 

Slip, slop, slap

In 1981, the government’s ‘SunSmart’ campaign hit Australian TV screens. An animated, board-shorts-wearing seagull called Sid, extolled the virtues of “Slip! Slop! Slap!”. Sid would dance around asking Australians to protect themselves from the sun when they’re out and about. 

The guidance was clear: slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat.

Sid has been in the Australian psyche ever since. His messaging has evolved slightly to now include ‘seek and slide’ which encourages Australians to seek shade during the hottest times of the day and to ‘slide’ on a pair of sunglasses. 

Impact

Nearly forty years on and the results of the government’s SunSmart campaign are in and they’re impressive…

At this point, it’s quickly worth noting that I grew up and live in London (in the not-so-sunny United Kingdom). I’ll explain my interest in this impressive Australian case study shortly.

Back to Oz….

Over the past 30 years, 13,285 people from Melbourne were surveyed about their sun protection habits. The surveys were taken at the start of the project (1987) and then every 10 years thereafter (1997, 2007 and 2017). 

Participants ranged in age from 14 to 69 years old. Each participant would be quizzed about their tanning attitudes, sun protection behaviour and sunburn incidence on the weekend immediately prior to the call. 

In October 2019, Cancer Council Victoria analysed the data from these surveys and published the results of their research. 

What the authors revealed was that “the odds of use of at least one sun protection behaviours on summer weekends was three times higher in the 1990s than pre-SunSmart.” 

“These improvements were sustained into the 2000s and continued to increase in the 2010s.”

“The findings are consistent with the possibility that changes over the decades in sun protection behaviour have contributed to the decline in melanoma rates, and have substantial implications for the future delivery of skin cancer prevention programs.”

Other nations, listen up!

So why do I care about this?

The LifeJacket mission is to halt the increase in male skin cancer. 

This mission requires behavioural change in men. I’m not naive enough to think we can do this on our own. We don’t have the voice or the resources. In Australia, behavioural change took 30-40 years and that was with the support, muscle and voice of a national government. Massive kudos to them on the results of this recent research. 

However, I don’t mean to sound glass-half-empty but if you look at the Australian case study through our lens, there’s still room for improvement… 

According to WHO data, Australian men still remain 51% more likely than women to get melanoma and twice as likely to die of it. We see this kind of male:female disparity in North America and much of Europe too. 

Put simply, it’s our view that brands, campaigns, press and sun awareness messaging simply does not talk to men. And the statistics speak for themselves. Even in Australia where behavioural change around sun protection has been relatively successful. 

It’s been like this for years. And we’ll do our (small) bit to change that. So please listen up. We exist for you – rest assured, we’ve got your back. 

Stay safe brother. 

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