Shading playgrounds make sense [Editorial]

Over the winter, playgrounds at four county parks are to be outfitted with shades to help protect children from exposure to dangerous ultraviolet rays from sunshine, which are most intense in the summer.

Using funding from the health department, the roughly $50,000 cost per park is a sensible investment that’s not a random act: some of the county’s newer parks and playgrounds already incorporate screening devices.

The work — at Blandair and Western regional parks, High Ridge and Kiwanis Wallas — is expected to be wrapped up by early spring.

The county’s commitment follows a 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s report urging “increased shade in outdoor recreational settings” as one of the top goals in a longer-term public campaign to reduce cases of skin cancer, which number about 5 million each year in the United States.

Medical evidence is indisputable. The cumulative effects of UV radiation from the sun can trigger skin cancer, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “a serious public health concern.” A 2015 CDC report concluded that a multifaceted approach to reduce skin cancer works best, including education programs starting in preschool.

This means outdoor activities — recess, sport practices, field trips and outdoor events — require protections from sun exposure, such as sunscreen and lip balm, hats and UV impervious clothing.

Skin cancer has become such a concerning public-health issue that three major U.S. cities have installed battery-powered sunscreen dispensers at dozens of public parks and beaches so patrons can get a free dollop of lotion. In promoting the importance of outdoor play, and safety, Howard’s health department also provides water bottles, hats and sunscreen.

Public programs do make a difference. Australia’s nearly 30-year-old SunSmart schools initiative has become a global model for skin-cancer reduction efforts, mandating education and detection campaigns. It encourages shades for outdoor areas, among other things.

As the county’s health officer notes, outdoor activities are good for children (and adults). So, too, is “creating an environmental structure that mitigates … risks.”

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