Two drink-free days a week needed, MPs' report says


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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".

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Science and technology committee report

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."

Matt Maden, from Bournemouth, was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, as a result of alcohol abuse, when he was 21 years old, and now needs a liver transplant.

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.

Review welcome

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."

It is estimated 6,000 babies are born every year in England with foetal alcohol syndrome because their mothers drank alcohol when pregnant

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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    I live with 3 vegetarians. No way do they feel they need to eat meat because it's sold everywhere they go. They're adults and capable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    I would be more impressed if all house of commons bars were closed on Wednesday's and Thurday's as MP's are seldom there on Friday's if its good for everyone else it shpuld be compulsory for MP's in their subsidised bars & if found to be having alcohol on more than 5 days a week they should be summarily sacked for Gross Misconduct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    Perhaps we would be better addressing why we drink too much in the UK. What is alcohol doing for us? Is it filling some kind of need?

    Shooting from the hip - people I know who drink little seem more contented/happy than those drink too much.

  • rate this

    Comment number 818.

    O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, - of Satan's handiwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper.

    Satan's plan is (but) to excite between you, with intoxicants and gambling, and hinder you from the rememberance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?

    Surah 5 | Maida | Verses 90-91


  • rate this

    Comment number 817.

    Two drink-free days a week... and 5 unconscious days a week. Not bad suggestion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    Too many control freaks on here. Take the advice then deal with it as you see fit. Another witch hunt has been created in order to deflect from the real political issues.
    I like a swill but never go out to terrorize anyone else. I know my limits, both in alcohol intake and opression. Do you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.


  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    Lets start with the commons bar NOT being subsidized by the taxpayer

  • rate this

    Comment number 813.

    Are you sure it wasn't "Two free-drink days a week needed, MPs' report says"? I'll vote for that :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

    You would think the sky had just fallen in judging by some of the reactions to the suggestion of keeping 2 days alcohol free. If you really find the idea so absurd & difficult - rather than entirely normal (don't you need to be able to get up & drive next day to work?) - you probably need to seriously reasses your drinking habits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    Chemical-mix, you're wrong. The French have a major problem with alcohol related disorders. The research on the positive red wine effect has been shown to be wrong.
    I wonder if it's possible to manipulate alcoholic drinks to make them more addictive? And I wonder if someone in the alcohol industry has already wondered about this? This has been done with tobacco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.

    Cheeky B*st*rds. Buy less duck houses and stop stealing on your expenses THEN you can give advice

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    How much does an alcoholic cost the ecomomy when he croaks at 50 or 60 - medical expenses. How much does a tea-totalling, health conscious person cost when they claim a pension until 95 year old and then still require medical attention and costs before popping?
    Advice should be given and then people left to their own interpretations.
    Too many think they have a right to control what others do!

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    The government isn't restricting anyone's choice to drink what they want to. Simply passing on good advice from health professionals who see the problems caused by alcohol first hand. All those contributors rattled by the advice who give various reasons (nanny state, loss of freedom etc) just confirm their own addiction. All addicts defend their addiction or worse deny it. I know I'm an alcoholic

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    Seems to me we are inundated with so much negativity and interference, that our mind, seeking some sort of peace, makes the decision to head to the drinks cabinet or nearest establishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    The so called 21 units a week limit was just plucked out of the air, it has no scientific basis what so ever. The people who are drinking too much are already probably quite aware.

    Bottoms up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    It seems like the British public seem to continue to fall for the bad science that says that drinking in moderation is better than not drinking at all.If you look carefully, these findings are completely wrong and based on really bad science.All the research compares abstainers with moderate drinkers and includes ex-alcoholics and hermits in the abstinence group which produces a false conclusion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    2 drink free days weekly Lots of people need who need this advice wont listen. It doesn't matter if it comes from MPs an alcoholic friend or their mother / wife. Addicts of tobacco heroin alcohol will all deny any problem and become very defensive. A quick survey of recycling bins on bin day reveals the extent of heavy drinking - one in three households in my street. Each to their own I suppose

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    800. speed_of_dark
    'Agreed the government should take their own advice - but if they don't it doesn't mean it's bad advice! I can imagine my mum saying, "if the government decided to jump off a cliff would you do it too?"'

    This still isn't a justification for governments restricting the choices of their citizens. Who is meant to be in charge here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 802.

    I'll believe this if the boozy bunch at Westminster actually lay off the liquid lunches themselves for two days...


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