Health chief's alcohol advice 'could have been better'

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Media captionDame Sally Davies tells Radio 4's Today there is a direct line between alcohol and breast cancer

England's chief medical officer has admitted she could have chosen her words better when she told women to "do as I do" and consider the risks of breast cancer when drinking wine.

Dame Sally Davies faced criticism for her remarks to a science and technology select committee hearing in February.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, she claimed she wanted to highlight the low-risk guidance for drinking.

But she said she could have framed her comments better.

Dame Sally made the admission during her guest-editing slot on the Today programme where she discussed alcohol with wine writer Jancis Robinson.

Dame Sally said: "Let me start by saying I could have framed that better, couldn't I, when I was in front of the select committee.

"And everyone knows, who knows me well, that I enjoy a glass of wine too. What I was trying to get over is, what are the low-risk guidance for drinking?"

In January, tough new guidelines were issued which cut the recommended drinking limit to 14 units a week for both men and women.

'Nanny in-chief sexist'

The chief medical officer told the Today programme there is a "straight line" in the relationship between the amount of alcohol consumed and breast cancer.

She said she will be enjoying a glass of champagne on New Year's Eve like many others and the revised advice was aimed at those who were drinking harmful levels.

She added: "I think my job is to tell them the evidence, it is not to be nanny and tell them they must, but they do need to think about it."

Dame Sally, who is the first woman to hold the post of chief medical officer, said references to her being the country's "nanny in-chief" were "sexist" as the name would not have be used for her male predecessors.

She recognised her role was to give advice to the public on various health issues such as obesity and smoking.

'It will take time'

Addressing concerns about the number of deaths caused by air pollution, Dame Sally said diesel cars should "steadily be phased out" but it would not happen overnight.

She also spoke about criticisms levelled at the government's child obesity plan which was attacked for being "weak" and "watered down".

"The plan is a great start. This is a journey. Look at tobacco. It took 20 years to build the public and political consensus to put through the law on smoking bans," she said.

"This year you'll begin to see the biting of plain packaging. It will take time to get a regulatory approach over and above the sugar tax."

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