Report recommends alcohol-free days

January 10th, 2012
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A committee of MPs have produced a report recommending that we have at least two alcohol-free days each week in a bid to to reduce alcohol related deaths and ill health.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee made the recommendation in a report that examined the alcohol guidelines, and how well these guidelines are communicated to the public. Evidence was submitted to the committee from a range of bodies, including health professionals, representatives from the alcohol industry, and charities. The evidence has suggested to the Committee that a thorough review of the risks of alcohol is needed.

So what is the current guidance and has it been effectively communicated to the public? At present the official guidance from the UK government recommends that men should not regularly drink more than 3–4 units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than 2–3 units a day.

The problem with the guidance as the committee has found is that many don’t understand how many units equates to actual drinks. This confusion means that the public are not ‘getting’ the advice. The Committee has recommended that the units system be kept but a clearer understanding communicated.

The unit system is not simple and many struggle to work out exactly how many units are in their drinks. The BBC gives the following somewhat complicated advice:

“You need to know the strength of the drink (%ABV) and amount of liquid in millimetres (one pint is 568ml; a standard glass of wine 175ml). You multiply the amount of drink in millilitres by the percentage ABV, and then divide by 1,000.

For example, if you order a pint of strong lager at 8% ABV:

1 pint (568ml) X 8 = 4,544

Divided by 1,000 = 4.544, or 4.5 units”

Roughly there is one unit in half a pint and a standard glass of wine is 2.3 units, but few people equate the units with the drinks they consume and this is where the current guidance falls down.

Chairman of the committee, Andrew Miller, stated that the guidelines were a crucial tool for the government in its effort to combat excessive 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.”

The report also found that the health benefits of alcohol have been oversold since the 1990s; ”The committee found a lack of expert consensus over the health benefits of alcohol and is therefore sceptical about using the purported health benefits of alcohol as a basis for daily guidelines for the adult population, particularly as it is clear that any protective effects would only apply to men over 40 years and post-menopausal women, yet the guidelines apply to all adults.”

Drinking “Regularly” means drinking every day or on most days of the week. People are also recommended to take a break from alcohol for 48 hours after a heavy drinking session to let their bodies recover.

The report recommends at least two alcohol free days a week, especially following a binge, to allow the body to recover from alcohol use. Giving people good advice on health issues is vital for the public to be able to make informed decisions on how they live their lives.

Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust,who was critical of the inclusion of representatives of the alcohol industry having input into the evidence submitted to the committee, said; ”we would like bolder steps taken and believe it would support public understanding if the health warnings that were included are similar to that on tobacco products, clearly stating the potential harm.”

Let us know what you think of the current guidelines, and if you think that two alcohol free days a week would make a difference to your health.

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