Healthy living

Drinkers should have two alcohol-free days a week

Drinkers should have two alcohol-free days a week MPs call for review of current alcohol guidelines

Drinkers should have two alcohol-free days a week, a report by MPs says.

The report, by Parliament's Science and Technology Committee, calls for a review of UK alcohol guidelines, as many people may find the current advice on sensible drinking unclear. 

The 'sensible limits' for drinking - defined as no more than 21 units of alcohol a week for men and 14 for women - were introduced in 1987.

But new evidence in the 1990s suggested that drinking low levels of alcohol daily might reduce the risk of heart disease. This led to the introduction of a maximum daily alcohol limit, which says men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day and women no more than two to three units a day.

The MPs said the move from weekly to daily alcohol limits "appeared to endorse daily drinking," and wrongly gives the impression that it is safe to drink this amount of alcohol every day without any risk to health.

The report says that if daily drinking limits are kept, people should be advised "to take at least two alcohol-free days a week," to enforce the message that drinking every day should be avoided, as is the case in Scotland.

Although nine out of ten drinkers have heard of alcohol units, just thirteen per cent of people kept a check on how much they drank on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, according to a survey by the Office of National Statistics.

The report recommends that more effort should be put into helping people understand both the concept of alcohol units, and the government's sensible drinking guidelines.

It said the Government "should remain mindful that sensible drinking messages may conflict with the business objectives of drinks companies" and urged it to "exercise proper scrutiny and oversight." 

Committee chair Andrew Miller MP 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."

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: "I welcome the notion of the working group to review the guidelines, yet the members should be health and scientific experts and definitely not representatives of the alcohol retail industry.

"The Trust also supports the recommendation that the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two consecutive alcohol-free days a week."

This article was published on Mon 9 January 2012

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