Weather can affect human health in a variety of ways. For New Zealand, some of the specific health issues that are linked to weather and climate include melanoma skin cancer, weather-sensitive rheumatism, asthma, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and stress in farmers caused by weather extremes. Several studies have been done in New Zealand investigating the link between particular health problems and the weather. There are limitations to such studies, including the obstacle of trying to isolate cause and effect, but it is clear that weather and health correlations do exist.
Lying on a New Zealand beach and basking in the warm sun sure sounds appealing, but there are health risks involved. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation can lead to skin cancer and eye diseases, and this is a significant issue in New Zealand. Malignant melanoma is one of the most serious types of skin cancer, and New Zealand has the second highest rate of melanoma in the world. Only Australia has a higher rate, which seems to imply that this region is particularly susceptible to harmful UV radiation.1 One cause for this may be the depletion of stratospheric ozone, which acts as a shield for earth’s surface against this radiation. Decrease in the levels of ozone has been an issue around the world, but the southern hemisphere has generally been more strongly affected. Ozone monitoring in New Zealand shows that the concentration of ozone has declined 5-7 percent over the last 30 years. During this same period of time, the skin-damaging solar radiation has increased approximately 6-9 percent.2 Fortunately, due to international government actions such as the Montreal Protocol, restrictions are in place against the use of ozone-depleting substances. But the damage that has been done to the ozone continues to be a factor in health issues related to UV radiation, such as melanoma.
Because melanoma is a serious health concern in New Zealand, research has been done exploring the malignancy. One specific study looked at the occurrence of melanoma throughout New Zealand. They found that the highest rates generally occurred on the North Island, while there tended to be lower rates on the South Island. Although the rates of melanoma didn’t correspond precisely with the hours of sunlight that an area has, there was some relation between these two. Southland, the southernmost region of New Zealand, has the least sunshine and was found to have the lowest rate of melanoma. The study also found that the rate of melanoma in men was significantly higher than that in women, and that the rate of melanoma increased with age.1
In response to the health issues associated with exposure to the sun, New Zealand has developed programs to educate people on the risks of solar radiation and the precautions that can be taken. One such program is called SunSmart, and its goal is to promote sun safety behaviors in New Zealand. Some statistics are posted on their website regarding the effects of skin...