Sun worshippers need to be aware of the health risks involved in being exposed to ultraviolet rays and make their own assessment according to their skin type, experts say.Each year, more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer, and 2,000 die of it.
"We see this as a very important tool in the Government's drive to cut preventable deaths from cancer," said the Health minister Tessa Jowell yesterday. Ms Jowell said educating young people about the risks was particularly difficult. "What 17-year-old girl does not believe she looks more attractive with a tan than without one?"
The index will feature on all television, radio and newspaper weather forecasts during the summer months, from May until September. It was originally developed by the World Health Organisation and classifies UV radiation on a numerical scale from one to 20.
The index also identifies four skin types: white that burns easily, white that tans easily, brown and black. "On a sunny, summer day in Blackpool the Solar UV index could be six," said Christopher New, of the Health Education Authority. "For a person with a fair skin that burns easily their risk of sun damage is very high and they would have to think seriously about protecting themselves."
Meteorological experts said people should be aware that even on cloudy days the levels of UV radiation can be high.
"Big white fluffy clouds can reflect UV radiation in the same way snow does," said Karl Kitchen, a senior manager at the Meteorological Office. "The new solar index includes the effect of cloud on sunshine intensity, helping everyone make an informed decision about protecting themselves this summer."