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Validity and use of the UV Index

Published in Health Physics, 2012.

The adequacy of the UV Index (UVI), a simple measure of ambient solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, has been questioned on the basis of recent scientific data on the importance of vitamin D for human health, the mutagenic capacity of radiation in the UVA wavelength, and limitations in the behavioral impact of the UVI as a public awareness tool. A working group convened by ICNIRP and WHO met to assess whether modifications of the UVI were warranted and to discuss ways of improving its effectiveness as a guide to healthy sun-protective behavior. A UV Index greater than 3 was confirmed as indicating ambient UV levels at which harmful sun exposure and sunburns could occur and hence as the threshold for promoting preventive messages. There is currently insufficient evidence about the quantitative relationship of sun exposure, vitamin D, and human health to include vitamin D considerations in sun protection recommendations. The role of UVA in sunlight-induced dermal immunosuppression and DNA damage was acknowledged, but the contribution of UVA to skin carcinogenesis could not be quantified precisely. As ambient UVA and UVB levels mostly vary in parallel in real life situations, any minor modification of the UVI weighting function with respect to UVA-induced skin cancer would not be expected to have a significant impact on the UV Index. Though it has been shown that the UV Index can raise awareness of the risk of UV radiation to some extent, the UVI does not appear to change attitudes to sun protection or behavior in the way it is presently used. Changes in the UVI itself were not warranted based on these findings, but rather research testing health behavior models, including the roles of self-efficacy and self-affirmation in relation to intention to use sun protection among different susceptible groups, should be carried out to develop more successful strategies toward improving sun protection behavior.

Validity and use of the UV index: report from the UVI working group