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World Health Organization warns that excess sun exposure could imperil children

World Health Organization warns that excess sun exposure could imperil children

As the protective ozone layer is increasingly depleted, more children are being exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned today.

According to a new WHO fact sheet, there is growing concern that UV radiation can hamper the immune system, raising the risk of infection and possibly limiting the efficacy of immunization against disease. "Both of these act against the health of poor and vulnerable groups, especially children of the developing world, as many developing countries are located close to the equator and hence exposed to very high levels of UV radiation," WHO said.

Pointing to the special vulnerability of children, WHO noted that their skin is thinner, more sensitive and more likely to burn. Frequent sun exposure and sunburn in childhood sets the stage for high rates of melanoma later in life.

In response, the agency recommended a number of measures to protect young people from harmful UV rays, including keeping infants in the shade and making sure children use sunscreen. "Shade, clothing and hats provide the best protection for children - applying sunscreen becomes necessary on those parts of the body that remain exposed like the face and hands," WHO said.

The agency has promoted global sun protection for children through a number of projects, including INTERSUN, a project which encourages research, assesses risks, and produces guidelines and recommendations on the issue. Working with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), WHO has also developed the "UV Index" as part of an international push to raise awareness about the dangers of sun exposure. A measure of the intensity of UV rays, the Index is presented as part of the weather forecast in many countries.