Level of excess drinking of alcohol 'is underestimated'

Man drinks wine while cooking Ad hoc drinking may mean we do not actually know how much we are consuming

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The amount of alcohol consumed in England could be much higher than previously thought, a study suggests.

University College London researchers compared alcohol sales figures with surveys of what people said they drank.

They found there was a significant shortfall with almost half of the alcohol sold unaccounted for in the consumption figures given by drinkers.

This suggests as many as three-quarters of people may be drinking above the recommended daily alcohol limit.

The researchers reached their estimates by factoring in the "missing" alcohol - and found excess drinking was far more than suggested by official figures, they told European Journal of Public Health.

Experts said much alcohol use went unreported, partly because drinkers did not admit or keep track of how much they consumed.

'Health implications'

The study found that 19% more men than previously thought were regularly exceeding their recommend daily limit - and 26% more women.

Total consumption across the week was also higher than officially thought - with 15% more men, and 11% more women drinking above the weekly guidelines.

The current recommendation set by the UK Chief Medical Officers is not to regularly exceed four units per day for men and three units a day for women; the Royal College of Physicians recommends weekly alcohol limits of 21 units for men and 14 units for women - although these are currently under review.

Drinking guidelines

A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, or nearly one small (125ml) glass of wine.

Sadie Boniface, lead author of the study at University College, said: "Currently we don't know who consumes almost half of all alcohol in England. This study was conducted to show what alcohol consumption would look like when all of what is sold is accounted for, if everyone under-reported equally.

"The results are putative, but they show that this gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England."

The team used alcohol sales data from Revenue and Customs and compared it with two self-reporting alcohol consumption surveys conducted in 2008 - the General Lifestyle Survey (GLF) which analysed average weekly alcohol consumption in 12,490 adults, and the Health Survey for England (HSE) which looked at consumption on the heaviest drinking day in the previous week among 9,608 adults.

Counting units

The researchers say they will now look at the characteristics of those that are under-reporting the number of drinks they have had, and why.

They suggest it may be down to drinking patterns and habits - those that are mixing drinks, and drinking at different venues, may be more likely to under-report.

Alcohol Concern's Eric Appleby: "Particularly when we drink at home, we pour much larger measures"

The charity Alcohol Concern suggests irregular and chaotic drinking behaviour may play a part: "When we're totting up our drinks total we don't always count some occasions as proper drinking.

"We may underestimate drink sizes and their alcoholic content, and not count holidays and special occasions like weddings, birthdays and Christmas when we often drink a great deal more than usual."

The researchers suggest that government drinking guidelines need to reflect actual consumption instead of reported drinking - especially when ascertaining what levels are associated with harm.

The Department of Health says this will be taken into consideration in their alcohol consumption review.

It said: "We already know people underestimate what they drink and many drink too much. That's why we work to help people make healthier decisions, including the recent Change For Life campaign to help them track consumption and understand the impact on their health.

"We're also tackling excessive drinking through our proposed minimum unit price at 45p per unit, tougher licensing laws, more GP risk assessments, better access to specialist nurses and more specialised treatment."

Diane Abbott MP, Labour's shadow public health minister, said: "This has got to be a wake-up call for the government and the country, because after more than two years of bitter internal rows, the government has got cold feet about its only proposed alcohol harm policy.

"More needs to be done to tackle problem drinking, which costs the country £21bn."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 556.

    Alcohol consumption
    UK 11.2 litres per capita
    France 14.8 litres per capita

    Life expectancy
    UK 79.58 years
    France 80.95 years

    Nuf' said.

  • rate this

    Comment number 555.

    A lot of double standards here.

    Those who say that Society doesn't have a right to advise me on healthy drinking levels and I'll do what I want to excess.

    Aren't they the same people that if they get ill because of their excess will be reaching out to that Society via the NHS for help?

    They're only guidelines, take it or leave it but don't be a hypocrite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 554.

    If people are lying about how much they're drinking, do the experts who are setting the recommended alcohol limits take that into account ?

    No, they didn't have enough data to to get any concrete evidence so they just made up a figure. They have actually admitted this, yet are still trotting out the same rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 553.

    This only suggests that alcohol intake is higher than we currently think. The health problems associated with alcohol however, are greatly exaggerated. All alcohol damage, except those associated with alcohol dependency and severe liver cirrhosis, are reversible as long as soon as one stops drinking for the respective amount of time. Alcohol is not a health problem, it is a societal problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 552.

    I know quite a few who make their own plonk of variable strength & some is wonderful stuff & has a good kick too, is that being taken into account? I don't see how it can be, so these mickey mouse figures are meaningless! It's a precursor to a tax hike & this is the excuse I reckon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 551.

    LOL of course people are lying about how much they are drinking because of the stigma!

  • rate this

    Comment number 550.

    As others have said, this is nothing to do with lies, safety, the amount drunk.
    It is all about building up a feeling that alcohol is the devils own and should be taxed to hell. The media - especially Goebbels own BBC - will support the hike in taxes and the government will get away with it.
    I predict a massive above inflation increase in alcohol, fuel and tobacco duty in the budget

  • rate this

    Comment number 549.

    @544 They make it their business because if they can show its bad for you then they can tax it (some more).

    Then they spend the money on illegal wars because that doesn't harm anyone at all.

    Damn right its none of their business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 548.

    @543.Stuart Wilson
    Of course but at least the majority of materialism doesn't leave you with liver disease, rotten teeth, stomach ulcers, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 547.

    Of course its under-reported!
    Nobody that drinks alcohol uses 'Unit' terminology, nor has a clear understanding of what an 'Alcohol Unit' consist of in any given alcoholic drink. Beers, for instance, vary enormously in the alcohol content and their relative 'unit' strength.
    If we're to be aware of our alcoholic 'unit' consumption, then much-clearer UNIT LABELLING needs to applied to the product

  • rate this

    Comment number 546.

    Most of the excess booze is in my drinks cabinet, got enough to last 2 lifetimes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 545.

    Nipped back home from the pub for a quick view on this topic and I see all those who want to reintroduce prohibition are still getting marked down. Too bad they tend to tar all with the same brush as most drinkers do not trash city centres, or go around in mobs fighting. It would appear some teetotallers would prefer to punish all outside of their own puritan life style.

  • rate this

    Comment number 544.

    What the hell has it got to do with you, how much I drink.

  • rate this

    Comment number 543.

    "Each to their own."

    So you swapped one interpretation of depravity for another. Fair enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 542.

    If people are lying about how much they're drinking, do the experts who are setting the recommended alcohol limits take that into account ? Or are their findings based on what people say they've been drinking rather than what they've really drinking ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 541.

    If people have money to waste on booze, fags, takeaways and the like then just let them waste it, they obviously don't have anything better to spend the money on so it may aswell go to liine the tax mans pocket. Personally I grew out of the need to get drunk every weekend when I was 24 and decided I'd rather have nice things for my house, a new car, etc. Each to their own.

  • rate this

    Comment number 540.

    So we create a pot of Money that we all contribute to that is to be used to provide essential services and support to those that need it. Part of that is the NHS that provides free Healthcare based on need, not circumstances.

    How do we stop people abusing through highly preventable unhealthy behaviour.

    Its good to live life as you want, but we need to support the NHS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 539.

    "The results are putative"

    So what's the point in presenting the figures thus far if they're deemed inaccurate/presumptive at best?

    "More needs to be done to tackle problem drinking, which costs the country £21bn."

    Ms Abbott, have you just jumped on a particularly laboured old bandwagon (sic)?

  • rate this

    Comment number 538.

    Over drinking...over eating...over smoking...people will over indulge where they can,and whist it is cheep enough to do so..its called greed and a lack of will power !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 537.

    We'll know how much our politicians consider this to be a 'problem', when they dispense with the generous tax-payer funded subsidy on alcohol in the House of Commons bar.


Page 7 of 34


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