Monday, June 07, 2004

Tans and bans

Sacked professor in 'small amount of sunshine good for you' shocker.

That's essentially the story reported by BBC News today, reporting the comments of Boston professor Michael Holick. 'What I am suggesting is sensible sun exposure. We are talking probably about no more than maybe three to five minutes to your hands, face and arms two to three times a week', he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 'People don't realise that 90 to 95 per cent of your vitamin D requirement comes from exposure from sunlight, and if you always wear sun block and never have direct sun exposure you will become vitamin D deficient, and at high risk of developing many serious chronic diseases.'

Holick's views on vitamin D and cancer are open to question, and there is certainly no reason to spark a counter-panic - as some news headlines have tried to do - about the supposed dangers of too little sun exposure. But at a time when advocating any sun exposure - even for a few minutes a week - is positively heretical, there is apparently every reason to put Holick's head on the block. So back in February Holick was asked to resign his position in the department of dermatology at Boston University's School of Medicine, whose head of department described Holick's book as 'an embarrassment for this institution and an embarrassment for him'.

Most skin cancers are highly treatable, and are not a major health risk. The link between the most serious forms and sunlight is, to say the least, far from certain. A sensible culture would conclude from this that there is still much debate to be had regarding the exact role of sunlight in skin cancer, and academia is where these debates are supposed to be had out. Yet, once a public health bandwagon starts rolling, it seems a distinctly chilling climate can develop towards anyone who questions it.

Expert sparks row on sun exposure, BBC News, 7 June 2004
Don't panic: Getting burned, Spiked, 31 March 2004