Two drink-free days a week needed, MPs' report says
- 9 January 2012
- From the section Health
People should have at least two days a week completely clear of alcohol, a group of MPs says.
It is one of the recommendations in a report by the Commons science and technology committee, which is calling for a review of all government guidelines on alcohol in the UK.
It says there are "sufficient concerns" about the recommendations on how much people should drink.
The report has been welcomed by charities and public health experts.
Advice on the maximum units of alcohol that should be consumed was introduced in 1987 - 21 units in a week for men and 14 for women.
In 1995, the advice was changed to recommend that men did not regularly drink more than three to four units per day. The figures were two to three units for women. It also says that after heavy drinking people should leave 48 hours for the body to recover.
The report questioned whether this "appeared to endorse daily drinking".
It said having two alcohol-free days would "would enforce the message that drinking every day should be avoided".
It also says there "could be merit" in setting a lower limit for older people in the same manner as there are more specific rules for children and pregnant women.
The idea of increasing the daily limit, was however, ruled out.
The report highlighted problems when it came to understanding how many units of alcohol there are in a drink.
A survey by the Office for National Statistics suggested that 90% of people had heard of units, yet fewer than one in three knew how much one unit of wine was and that only 13% kept a check on the units they drank.
The report does support the concept of the unit, but said more work was needed to help people understand them.
It says: "There are sufficient concerns about the current drinking guidelines to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence concerning alcohol and health risks is due."
The chairman of the committee, Andrew Miller, said: "Alcohol guidelines are a crucial tool for government in its effort to combat excessive and problematic drinking. It is vital that they are up-to date and that people know how to use them."
"Unfortunately, public understanding of how to use the guidelines and what an alcohol unit looks like is poor, although improving.
"While we urge the UK health departments to re-evaluate the guidelines more thoroughly, the evidence we received suggests that the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week."
Alan Maryon-Davis, a professor of public health, said: "Broadly speaking [alcohol guidelines] are fit for purpose, but they need a bit of clarification.
"The word 'daily' I would object to. It gives the impression that it is a good idea to drink every day, which clearly it isn't."
He thinks that phrases such as "in a day" or "in 24 hours" should be adopted.
Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: "The main recommendation of setting up a review of evidence to come up with clear guidelines would be very valuable indeed."
Wine and Spirit Trade Association spokesman Gavin Partington said: "People want simple, consistent advice on how to drink responsibly.
"Through our commitment to the Responsibility Deal, the vast majority of alcohol labels on UK shelves will contain responsible drinking guidelines by 2013, supported by point-of-sale information in both the on-and-off trades."
Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said: "Accessible and reliable public information on alcohol harm is an essential element in tackling Britain's problem with alcohol misuse. However, the government must accept that information alone is insufficient.
"With the new alcohol strategy currently being developed, the government has the opportunity to confront alcohol harm on several fronts, including minimum price control and the empowerment of communities to control local licensing."
Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware, said: "Drinkaware welcomes the committee's recommendation for greater efforts on helping people understand the unit guidelines and how to use them.
"While the committee recognises that public awareness of alcohol units is now high, it supports Drinkaware's evidence that more needs to be done to raise awareness of how many units are in alcoholic drinks."
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "It's crucial that people have good advice about alcohol so they can take responsibility for their own health.
"The current guidelines were developed following a thorough review of the evidence and consultation with experts. We will consider these recommendations and look at whether it is necessary to review our guidance.
"Next month, we are launching new Change4Life adverts which will advise people about the harm alcohol can do to our health. We will also shortly be publishing a strategy to tackle alcohol misuse."
BBC Inside Out's alcohol special is broadcast on Monday, 9 January on BBC One at 19:30 GMT and on the iPlayer for seven days afterwards.