Top tips for family health and safety this summer

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Summer is on the horizon and with it comes concern about sun exposure, heat related-illness and the increased risk of bushfires. Experts from Sydney University provide recommendations for a healthy and safe summer. 

1. Dieting and body image over the holidays

By Scott Griffiths (PhD candidate, School of Psychology)

The festive season can be a challenge for people with eating and body image problems. The prospect of big holiday feasts can trigger anxiety and eating disorder behaviours, and the hot beach-loving weather makes people more aware of their bodies and their body image.

Body image is an important part of wellbeing. It would be wrong to dismiss a person’s interest in their appearance as vain or superficial. At the same time, it cannot be the sole source from which you derive self-esteem.

2. Sun exposure recommendations and vitamin D

By Professor Rebecca Mason, (Head of the Disciple of Physiology, Sydney Medical School)

Low vitamin D is a significant health concern.  Close to 25 percent of people living at home have inadequate vitamin D levels overall, with sub-optimal levels measured in around 15% of people in summer, rising to nearly 40% in winter (Australian Health Survey 2011-12).

Groups of people who are at high risk include people who have dark skin, older people living in aged care homes and people who avoid the sun.

Some sun exposure during the day is useful for making vitamin D and for other health benefits, but the sun can also cause damage that results in skin cancers, so cover-up if you plan to be outdoors for more than a short time in summer.

3. Bushfire preparation and the role of volunteered geographic information 

By Billy Haworth, (PhD candidate in the School of Geosciences)

Residents living in the bush and bushfire risk areas should not wait until the ‘traditional bushfire season’ of January and February to start planning for a potential bushfire. Research shows the number of people who actively prepare for disasters is significantly lower than the number of people at risk. A plan may be as simple as leaving the area early in high fire danger days. But people need to make a plan about what they will do to remain safe, and share their plans with communities and their family and friends.

Social media and other information communication technologies, such as smartphones and online mapping platforms, have dramatically changed the way information during disasters is disseminated by authorities and the public.

4. Road safety and injury prevention

By Professor Rebecca Ivers, (The George Institute for Global Health and University of Sydney School of Public Health)

This year has been a horrific year in terms of the road toll, with New South Wales already reaching 330 deaths compared to 295 at the same time last year.

Drivers should be taking extra caution over the holiday season to ensure our roads are safe. If travelling with young children, ensure they are seated in a fitted and correctly installed restraint every car trip. Avoid the temptation to text while driving, take breaks on long trips and drive within speed limits.

Every significant piece of road safety legislation has seen a corresponding drop in injury and death, whether it be drink drinking or speed cameras. All road users need to follow these laws to protect the safety of everyone in the community.

5. Holidaying with pets and heat-related illness in small animals

By Dr Anne Fawcett, (Faculty of Veterinary Science)

Companion animals of all kinds are susceptible to heat stress and heat stroke. The mortality rate of dogs admitted to veterinary hospital is between 50 to 65 percent so it is crucial owners take every precaution to make sure their animal companions are safe and healthy. 

Diagnosis is often tricky, because many owners have begun cooling their animal prior to veterinary attention being received – the presence of a normal or even low body temperature does not rule out a diagnosis of heat stroke.

Top five tips:

1.    Where possible, keep companion animals indoors or board them in an air-conditioned facility

2.    Shade is key to keeping companion animals safe. Make sure they have access to shade all day, as shady spots can disappear as the sun moves

3.    Cool and iced water is essential. I always provide a small ice-bucket for my guinea pigs on hot days

4.    Provide adequate ventilation throughout the day 

5.    Do NOT leave animals in a car without air conditioning 

6. History of the Australian holiday and tourism

By Associate Professor Richard White, (Department of History)

The traditional Australian way of leisure is in danger of disappearing completely. As we are pushed towards a 24/7 economy, a casualised workforce, a decline in penalty rates and extended trading hours on public holidays, the ways we arrange our time away from work in holidays and weekends is being changed without any debate.

Perhaps it’s time to begin by asking, not how we might be moulded for the benefit of the economy but how the economy might be moulded for – as Justice Higgins put it over a century ago – ‘the normal needs of a human being in a civilised community’.

7. Avoiding mosquito-borne illnesses

By (Dr Cameron Webb, Department of Medical Entomology)

Mosquitoes need blood to survive. And what better place to get a good meal than a slow, tasty human. Spraying insecticides may kill some mosquitoes around our backyard but it won’t completely protect us from mozzie bites. Every year around 5,000 Australian get sick following a mosquito bite.

“In the middle of a hot and humid summer afternoon, rubbing a somewhat sticky substance over your skin is far from appealing. It’s little wonder that there is great interest in wrist bands and patches that purport to protect against mosquito bites. But they only work for a few millimetres either side of the band.
(Source: The University of Sydney)

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Date Created: December 30, 2015 Date Modified: January 11, 2016