Alcohol guidelines being ignored as they irrelevant, experts in Sheffield warn

Photo: Johnny Green/PA Wire
Photo: Johnny Green/PA Wire
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THE GOVERNMENT’S current daily alcohol guidelines are unrealistic and largely ignored because they have little relevance to people’s weekend drinking habits, according to academics at a Yorkshire university.

The study involving Sheffield University experts found that a daily limit on the units that should be consumed was not effective as most people do not drink regularly in the week but may drink more heavily at weekends.

It also said units of alcohol was seen as an unhelpful guideline as the majority of people measure how much they drink in bottles, pints or glasses.

The report published today explored how drinkers make sense of the current UK drinking guidelines which suggests men should not regularly exceed three to four units a day, while women should not regularly drink more than two to three units daily.

Research show that the guidelines are generally disregarded as the daily intake suggestions are deemed irrelevant in a country where most people don’t drink everyday.

The results also revealed that people think the recommended quantities of drink are unrealistic, as they don’t recognise that many people are motivated to drink to get drunk.

Researchers found that participants preferred the current Australian and Canadian guidelines, which include separate advice for regular drinking and for single occasion drinking, which were regarded as more relevant and flexible to occasional drinkers.

While participants did regulate their drinking, this was usually down to practical issues such as needing to go to work or having childcare responsibilities, rather than health concerns or because of national guidance.

Researchers conducted focus groups to see how the current guidelines were perceived by people aged between 19 and 65 years-old and from varied economic backgrounds.

Melanie Lovatt from Sheffield University, who led the study said: “These findings not only help to explain why some drinkers disregard current guidelines, but also show that people make decisions about their drinking by considering their responsibilities and lifestyle, rather than just their health.”

The findings are published today in the journal Addiction.

Sheffield University Alcohol Research Group (SARG) in collaboration with the University of Stirling.

Professor Linda Bauld from Stirling University said: “This research was conducted in both Scotland and England illustrating that the findings have relevance for different parts of the country.

“Both policy makers and health professionals may find the results useful in considering how people interpret current guidelines and any place these guidelines may have in providing information to advise people about alcohol consumption.”

The study was funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI). The NPRI is a major national initiative, managed by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and supported by 16 government departments, research councils and major medical charities.

SARG’s work has previously included analysis of Government plans to ban retailers from selling alcohol cheaper than the cost of the tax payable on the product.

Its research found that this would actually have little impact on drinking levels. They found it would result in a reduction of just 0.004 per cent of alcohol consumption and even less among those who drink to harmful levels.