Rowers overexposed, researcher says

University of Otago rowers sport various levels of sun protection during the Canterbury Rowing...
University of Otago rowers sport various levels of sun protection during the Canterbury Rowing Championships at Lake Ruataniwha. PHOTO: SHARRON BENNETT
A new University of Otago study is urging New Zealand schools to provide better rowing uniforms with improved sun protection for pupils competing at regattas.

Research by master’s student Linda Buxton found young rowers at Lake Ruataniwha could be exposed to dangerous levels of solar radiation while on the water.

She said data from one race showed 67% of athletes exceeded the daily recommended ultraviolet radiation (UVR) dose.

‘‘As athletes usually compete in more than one race per day and are also exposed to UVR between races, overall UVR exposure is likely to be extremely high.’’

Ms Buxton said the UVR exposure during one quarter of the race times measured, was high enough to cause sunburn in people with light coloured skin.

A race time is the period when the boat is on the water, including moving to and from the start and finish line.

About 20% of the rowers wore no head protection and younger rowers were less likely to cover their heads, she said.

Her study recommended school rowing uniform regulations include wearing sunglasses and sun protective headwear, such as bucket hats and peaked caps, which would provide some protection to the face without impacting performance.

She said sun protection should also be used routinely at rowing regattas, even when the UV index was below three because of the length of time athletes were outside.

Ms Buxton has worked for the Cancer Society in skin cancer prevention for the past 10 years, and led the study for her master’s with the Social and Behavioural Research Unit at the University of Otago’s department of preventive and social medicine.

She said skin cancer was New Zealand’s most common cancer and about 90% of cases were caused by over-exposure to UVR.

It was also the most common environmental cause of cataracts.

She said preventing episodes of sunburn and UVR over-exposure in young people was important because it would reduce the incidence of skin cancer later in life.

Her research showed risk management was already a priority for organisers of sports events, but focus was typically on immediate risks, such as water safety, traffic management and the possibility of extreme weather events.

‘‘The UVR exposure of high school rowers during competitive rowing justifies careful consideration of long-term risks, and a dedicated risk management response,’’ Ms Buxton said.

‘‘We’re right at the beginning of working with sports organisations to try and help them to start to think about being sun-smart.’’

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