Children’s playgrounds often lack adequate protection from sun exposure. Overexposure to solar radiation can negatively impact long-term child health, as research has shown that UV exposure and sunburns as a child are linked to many adult skin cancers and melanoma.1
The sun is at its highest intensity from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., which coincides with the time children commonly visit playgrounds. Being active on a playground during this time of day can leave children exposed to high levels of intense sun, increasing the potential of sunburn and other short-term effects of sun exposure (i.e., heat illness).
Awareness of the amount of sun exposure isn’t limited to just the summer; it’s important all year! Sun exposure is essential for Vitamin D, which children need and receive through sun exposure. However, in summertime, this can be achieved in as little as 15 minutes for fair-skinned people. In the summertime overexposures can become a major concern.
In the winter, particularly in northern latitudes, underexposure is common due to low sun levels and minimal skin exposed to the sun in the cold weather. It is important for children to receive adequate playtime and that playground designs consider sun exposure for both warmth and Vitamin D synthesis. Skin damage in winter can be a concern for long periods of time on highly reflective snow.
The average time for skin to be damaged, assuming midday, from June to August depends on region, as well as skin type. Children with very sensitive skin may have skin reddening and damage from as little to 11 to 23 minutes of sun exposure in the U.S., if not wearing sunscreen and in direct sunlight (non-shaded).
Sun Exposure on Playgrounds
As part of a national study of playgrounds, NPPS conducted an assessment of available sun protection on playgrounds. Only three percent of playgrounds visited had full shade protection from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., while 30 percent of playgrounds had partial shade. The remaining 67 percent of public playgrounds were exposed to full sun during these peak hours.
Playgrounds with limited or no shade and high levels of direct sun can be uncomfortable to children and supervisors and may discourage children from being physically active at a playground.
NPPS is concerned about the limited attention given to both man-made and natural shade in creating more comfortable play spaces, and is actively developing research protocols to gather further information on this important topic. NPPS believes that this information can lead to guidelines regarding environmental factors on playgrounds and design, such as protection from UV exposure, as current standards fail to address environmental health risks.
In the Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends children play in shaded areas when outside to protect from overexposure to UV radiation.
1. Oliveria, S. A., Saraiya, M., Geller, A. C., Heneghan, M. O., & Jorgensen, C. (2006). Sun exposure and risk of melanoma. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 91(2).