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Call for Year-Round UV Information

Media release
28 April 2006

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Call for Year-Round UV Information

The Health Sponsorship Council and the Cancer Society SunSmart partnership are calling for year-round promotion of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) information, not just in summer months as it is at present.

The issue was extensively debated at last week’s NIWA UV workshop attended by UV specialists from around the world.

“Unlike many countries that have a relatively constant level of UV, New Zealand has significant peaks and troughs of intensity with a huge variation between summer minimum and winter maximum levels,” SunSmart spokesperson Wendy Billingsley says. “Exposure to UV radiation is the cause of up to 90 percent of all skin cancer cases which is why the SunSmart partnership worked with NIWA to develop the UV Index,”

But lack of UV can also have negative health impacts.

“It’s a question of balance,” Ms Billingsley says.

The UV Index graphics that the partnership developed not only advise the public of the level of UV radiation at a given time on a given day, but also the appropriate behaviour that should be taken in response.

“When UV levels reach 6 or above, people are advised to take measures to protect themselves against risk of harmful exposure which might lead to skin cancer,” Ms Billingsley says.

“On the other hand, adequate vitamin D is essential for general health. Vitamin D is necessary for bone, joint, muscle and neurological function and the main source of vitamin D in New Zealand is exposure to sunlight.”

Here in New Zealand, wintertime UV intensities are relatively low, especially in the south of the country, she says.

“A number of papers at the workshop discussed the ways in which vitamin D impacts on health concerns such as osteoporosis, diabetes and many forms of cancer.

“So what we are saying, is that it is not only important that people receive behavioural messages for when UV levels are high during summer, but when they are low during winter.”

Ms Billingsley says that having developed an index that will give people the information they need to make important choices about exposure to UV – both beneficial and detrimental – it makes great sense to use it year-round.

“The Minister of Health Hon Pete Hodgson commented at the workshop that he is aware of nowhere else in the world where UV information and behavioural advice is better done than in New Zealand, and he also backs the call for the UVI to be available to the public all year round.

“NIWA, the MetService, the Ministry of Health and the SunSmart partnership all agree it is a valuable tool that should be used year-round. SunSmart’s mandate is to protect people from developing skin cancer and we fund the availability of the UV Index in the summer months. But we would very much like to see the UV Index work for the benefit of New Zealanders year round.”

Key stakeholders in the risks and benefits of sun exposure in New Zealand recently developed a national position statement which the workshop endorsed. It can be found on www.sunsmart.org.nz/sunvitamind.asp .

ENDS

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