Parts of Britain are about to bathe in temperatures of up to 32°C today, and the Met Office has issued a Level 2 public health alert to warn of the dangers of staying in the sun too long.
To coincide with the hot weather, Public Health England has issued a series of tips to help people keep cool. These include advice to consume cool drinks, wear light clothing, apply sunscreen and this bombshell: ‘try to keep out of the sun’.
While these tips aren’t exactly rocket science, many Britons don’t use common sense in hot weather – a study last year revealed that two out of five people get sunburnt on purpose in an attempt to make their tan more colourful.
One MP said the public health advice was ‘patronising nonsense’, but there are 2,000 heat-related deaths in Britain each year, indicating that putting some kind of message out there to warn people of the dangers could make a difference.
But warning about the dangers of heat, particularly in a place historically starved of it, like Britain, can sometimes have the opposite effect.
‘Heat warnings aren’t always effective,’ said Professor Wandi Bruine de Bruin, a psychologist at Leeds University Business School who is currently investigating the public’s response to heatwaves.
‘They could be even more effective if they didn’t evoke positive emotions about heat. What also happens is people feel excited when they hear heat protection warnings. And those positive emotions make them not want to protect against heat.’
So that’s why millions of Britons don’t bother reaching for the Factor 30 when the sun comes out – they’re so overwhelmed that the thing exists at all that they work themselves up into a literal hot flush.
The same goes for our rather naïve collective attitude to climate change – if it means more sun, bring it on.
Prof Bruine de Bruin is from the Netherlands, but spent 17 years in the clammier US before arriving here two years ago.
‘I moved to the UK in July 2012 and I just found your summers refreshing,’ she said. ‘It was nice to be able to go outside and not be so disgustingly hot. But people here don’t think that way, because they’re not used to it.
‘Hot summers don’t lead to as much concern here in the UK. People here are much more concerned about rain and flooding. So you see people from the UK going on vacation to hotter places, deliberately planning to stay out in the heat.’