The acting U.S. Surgeon General was in New Mexico Tuesday to talk about ways schools and parents can work together to prevent skin cancer.
Boris Lushniak and New Mexico Health Secretary Retta Ward met with school officials, parents and students at Bandelier Elementary School in Albuquerque.
Lushniak said there used to be a time when a tan was a good thing.
"Kids, it's 2014! We've learned so much!" he told Ivan Reeves' 5th grade class. "Tanned skin is damaged skin and what we're trying to make sure you understand - and you teach the younger kids - is that you can protect yourself."
Lushniak commended the school for putting sunshades over the playground equipment and giving kids sunhats to wear outdoors.
Even though most skin cancers can be prevented, federal health officials say skin cancer rates are increasing across the country. The average annual cost of treating skin cancers now tops $8 billion.
Officials say New Mexico has one of the highest incidences and mortality rates of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer - among non-Hispanic white individuals.