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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK


Scorcher ahead as health row heats up

Good news this weekend for dedicated sunbathers

The UK's sun worshippers are looking forward to a scorching weekend. But on a day that could turn out to be the hottest this year, controversy rages over claims by a team of doctors that sunshine could be more healthy than harmful.

Much of the country was experiencing high temperatures on Friday with more blue skies and sunshine predicted for the next few days.

[ image: Health or hazard?]
Health or hazard?
The west is expected to see the best weekend weather - good news for sunseekers heading for the beaches of Devon, Cornwall and West Wales.

Temperatures in London were expected to reach 28C (82F) on Friday, up from Thursday's 27C (81F), while Glasgow, could hit 26C (79F).

Health risks and benefits

Meanwhile, the row over whether or not sunbathing is healthy is heating up.

In an article in the British Medical Journal, a group of researchers from Bristol University argued that the benefits from sun-bathing may outweigh the risk of skin cancer.

They were immediately accused of undermining years of public health campaigns which warned people to be wary of the dangers of the sun.

But one of the doctors behind the article has sought to calm the critics. Dr David Gunnell stressed while people should avoid excessive exposure to the sun, it should not be ignored that it might help prevent rickets, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and depression.

"What we have said is we need to carefully balance up the benefits and disbenefits of sunlight exposure," he told BBC Breakfast News.

"What is important is not to lose sight of the message that rates of skin cancer are rising and sunlight plays a role in that, but at the same time there may be some beneficial effects of exposure to sunlight."

Habits unchanged

At Southsea on the south coast of England, where Friday's temperatures soared up to 26C (79F), most sun-lovers said they were pleased to hear that sunbathing could be healthy. But they said it would not change their habits one way or another.

Rachel Gardiner, from Portsmouth, Hampshire, who was at the beach with her two-year-old son George, said: "I'm very careful about George but we do spend a lot of time in the sun. I always have, since I was little, and I think people just do what they want.

"There are so many things that are meant to be good or bad for you that you just end up ignoring all of them.

"I know the sun ages your skin but it does make me feel happy. Everyone has a bit of a glow to them at this time of year."

Mary Gould, 49, also from Portsmouth, said she had always thought the sun was good for you.

She said: "If you were ill 20 years ago the first thing the doctor would tell you was to get a bit of sun. Now everyone knows you have to be careful and use sunscreen, so I think it is good for you as long as you tan gradually.

"I enjoy the feel of the sun on my skin but I do use suntan lotion until I've built up my basic tan. Then it's not worth using after that."

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