Turns Out 'Slip, Slop, Slap' Saved A Bunch Of Lives

It's one of Australia's most well-known public health campaigns, and now there's evidence to suggest the SunSmart program has contributed to a reduction in melanoma among young Australians.

A survey of more than 13,000 people in Melbourne over a 30-year period has shown a rapid increase in the use of sun protection in the decade after the program's launch, new research reveals.

The study, undertaken by Cancer Council Victoria, found the likelihood of people using one or more sun protection behaviours on summer weekends was three times higher in the 90s than before SunSmart began.

It was 1981 when Sid the Seagull first danced his way across TV screens, asking us to protect ourselves from the sun while out and about.

"Slip, Slop, Slap!" the animated bird wearing board shorts would sing.

"It sounds like a breeze when you say it like that."

Image: Cancer Council Victoria

The instructions are clear enough: slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat.

It wasn't until 1987 that the jingle became the cornerstone of the targeted prevention and early detection program, SunSmart.

Launched by the Cancer Council Victoria, the campaign was created at a time when melanoma rates were rising and the evidence of a link between UV radiation and skin cancer was becoming mainstream.

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Since then, the program has made its way to each state and territory, and Sid's message (and animation) has changed with the times.

Today, 'Slip', 'Slop' and 'Slap' are joined by 'Seek' and 'Slide' -- an update to the ionic slogan reminding Aussies to seek shade and slide on wrap-around sunglasses.

Sid's latest update. Image: Cancer Council Queensland

To better understand the impact of the campaign, Cancer Council Victoria analysed the responses of 13,285 respondents from the summer before Sunsmart commenced (1987-88), and the summers of subsequent decades (1988-2017).

Participants ranged in age from 14 to 69 years were recruited for weekly telephone interviews assessing their tanning attitudes, sun protection behaviour and sunburn incident on the weekend prior to the call.

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"The odds of use of at least one sun protection behaviours on summer weekends was three times higher in the 1990s than pre-SunSmart," the authors wrote.

"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."

Image: Getty

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and Australia has one of the highest rates of the disease in the world.

It is the country's third most common cancer -- in 2015, 13,694 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in Australia, accounting for nearly one in ten cancer diagnoses.