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Sun Avoidance Is as Risky as Smoking

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Recent research highlights the importance of sensible sun exposure, stating “Current guidelines for sun exposure are unhealthy and unscientific.”

The research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in December 2018, calls for an immediate revision of public health recommendations, noting that moderate, non-burning UV exposure is a health benefit and should be recommended as such.


The authors warn that the public has been misled and misinformed about the health ramifications of sun avoidance.

A press release by the Canadian Vitamin D Society notes: “The authors examined the current state of scientific research and found that severe sunburns are linked to an increased risk of melanoma but non-burning sun exposure is linked to a reduced risk of melanoma”.

“This is a message the public never receive from current public health guidelines,” states Dr. David Hoel, lead author, department of public health sciences, Medical University of South Carolina. “The public is led to believe that all sun exposure should be avoided and that the avoidance of sun exposure is free of risk from a health perspective… that is not the case.”


The paper warns an estimated 12 percent of all U.S. deaths may be linked to inadequate sun exposure, and that sun avoidance is as potent a risk factor for death as smoking.

Compelling evidence supporting the idea that regular sun exposure benefits health and longevity was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2014. In this study, led by Pelle Lindqvist, a senior research fellow at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, the sun exposure habits of nearly 30,000 Swedish women were evaluated in a 20-year-long study. According to the authors:

  • All-cause mortality was inversely related to sun exposure habits. The mortality rate amongst avoiders of sun exposure was approximately twofold higher compared with the highest sun exposure group, resulting in excess mortality with a population attributable risk of 3 percent.
  • The results of this study provide observational evidence that avoiding sun exposure is a risk factor for all-cause mortality. Following sun exposure advice that is very restrictive in countries with low solar intensity might, in fact, be harmful to women’s health.”
  • The take-home message of this study: Women who avoided the sun had double the mortality risk of those who got regular sun exposure..


There are not many daily lifestyle choices that double your risk of dying.

Two years later, Lindqvist published a follow-up paper, in which more than 25,500 Swedish women between the ages of 25 and 64 were again followed for 20 years. Detailed information about sun exposure habits and confounding factors were obtained and analyzed in a “competing risk” scenario.

  • Overall, women who got regular sun exposure did have a higher risk for melanoma compared to sun avoiders, but again, they still had a lower all-cause mortality risk, likely due to their increased vitamin D levels.
  • Women with active sun exposure habits had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and non-cancer death compared to those who avoided the sun. What’s more, sun avoidance was determined to be as hazardous as smoking, in terms of its effects on life expectancy.
  • Nonsmokers who avoided sun exposure had a life expectancy similar to smokers in the highest sun exposure group, indicating that avoidance of sun exposure is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking. Compared to the highest sun exposure group, the life expectancy of avoiders of sun exposure was reduced by 0.6 to 2.1 years.

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