I recently attended a meeting in London where I learnt more about the evidence-based campaign ‘Have a little less, feel a lot better’ which is aimed at helping men aged between 45 and 64 years make better choices about their drinking. Recent data monitoring has identified this segment of the population as ‘risky career drinkers’. Characteristics of this group include: being male, aged over 45, educated to degree level, married or living with a partner, and an annual household income of £35k or more.
If you fall into this segment of the population (or even if you don’t), I challenge you to have a go at the ‘Drink Compare Calculator’ here. It only takes a minute to input data and the calculator will compare your drinking habits to those of 2,294 adults aged 18-75 and provide you with some insightful facts.
Now, I would consider myself to be a very light/occasional drinker, however, using the Drink Compare Calculator was quite an eye-opener for me! With the festive party time of year approaching, I will certainly be more aware of how much alcohol I’m consuming and perhaps have a little less. Unfortunately, there is currently not much choice when looking for a non-fizzy, non-alcoholic drink in bars. If you know of any, do let me know! I was very excited to try out the new non-alcoholic, botanical drink from Seedlip, so I’m hoping it, or similar drinks, will become more available in the bars around Edinburgh.
Are you aware of the low risk drinking guidelines?
In terms of the UK drinking guidelines published in 2016, research has shown that many people are not aware of these. A poll by the Alcohol Health Alliance in November 2016 found that 82% of people were not aware of the alcohol guidelines. I did my own poll on my twitter account recently (not a very robust research method!) but of the 24 people who responded, 66% were aware of the Government advice - not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week for men and for women.
Although many people are aware of the link between alcohol and liver disease there seems to be a huge lack of awareness regarding the 200 plus diseases and injury conditions linked to alcohol. These include cancer, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, pancreatitis, depression and dementia. It should be noted that there is no ‘safe’ drinking level, hence why the guidelines are referred to as ‘low risk’ drinking guidelines and not ‘safe’ drinking guidelines.
Previous and revised guidelines
Previous alcohol drinking guidelines, set in 1995, provided daily limits of no more than 2-3 units a day for women and 3-4 units a day for men. This suggested that men could consume up to 28 units and women 21 units a week. However, the Royal College of Physicians recommended a weekly limit of 21 units for men and 14 units for women. Following a review of recent research on alcohol-related health risks and consideration of how guidelines have been developed in other countries, new low risk drinking guidelines were published in 2016.
The new guidelines provide details on drinking levels to minimise risk in three areas:
Why is it the same figure for men and women?
Although the risks to your health with drinking alcohol are far greater for women than men, men are actually more at risk of acute harm (injury) on single drinking occasions. Therefore the low risk drinking guideline has been set at 14 units per week for both men and women.
What is a unit?
As drinks come in a variety of strength and sizes, units are used to indicate how strong your drink is. One unit is 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. In practical terms here’s some examples of the number of units (and calories) in some common drinks:
If you pour drinks yourself at home, it’s useful to check how much you pour into your glass. Next time, check with a measuring cup. Your perception of how much liquid is in a glass can be influenced by the size and shape of the glass itself. Unit measuring cups are available from Drinkaware. When pouring spirits, 25ml is one unit and a standard glass of wine is 175ml (which would be 2.1 units if the wine is 12% ABV or 2.5 units if its 14% ABV).
References and Resources
Full details of the guidelines for safe drinking levels published in 2016 are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/health-risks-from-alcohol-new-guidelines
Details on how to get a Unit Measure Cup are available here: https://resources.drinkaware.co.uk/products/unit-measure-cup
The DrinkIQ website has lots of resources to help you make informed choices about drinking. Try out the ‘Drink Calculator’ as well as the many other resources on the website. See: https://www.drinkiq.com/en-gb/
Have a look at the short videos on the Drinkaware website on various topics, including ‘How can I lose my beer belly’
Download the free app from Drinkaware to help you track your alcohol consumption and spend over time.