The UK Government has agreed to lower the recommended level of alcohol consumption to just 14 units per week following a consultation on a report put forward by the UK’s chief medical officer earlier this year.
Led by England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies and published in January, the draft report claimed that any amount of drinking increases the risk of a range of cancers and that there was “no safe level” of drinking.
The report lowered the recommended intake for men by seven units to the same level as women – just 14 units per week – which equates to around six pints of 4% strength beer or six 175ml glasses of 13% abv wine.
Yesterday, the government formally accepted the new guidelines following a public consultation on Davies’ report. While the units remain unchanged, and includes a warning that “there is no safe drinking level”, the language has been toned down to acknowledge that alcohol plays a key part in the social lives of many, but maintains that such activity still carries a degree of risk.
It said drinking within moderation posed no greater risk than other “everyday activities”, for example driving, “that people understand are not completely safe yet still undertake”, reiterating that there was no safe level of drinking and that it was “safest” to not to drink more than 14 units a week.
Previous NHS guidance, published in 1995, advised that men should not drink any more than three to four units a day – up to 21 units a week – while women should not drink more than two to three units a day, or up to 14 units a week.
Confirming the changes, the government said the revised guidelines were intended “not to prevent those who want to drink alcohol from doing so,” but to provide people with information to help navigate potential risks and make decisions about their consumption.
However the drinks trade has already voiced its concern over the proposed changes, which have today become firm.
Reacting to the changes this morning Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA said: “It is widely recognised that moderate and responsible consumption of alcohol is compatible with a healthy lifestyle and carries a degree of risk comparable with many other day to day activities.
“Rather than inform the consumer these revised guidelines will only serve to confuse. The revised guidelines also completely fail to take account of the reduction in alcohol consumption in the UK, which has seen a decline of nearly a fifth in the last decade.
“We will reflect and consult our members on our position in response to the publication of the consultation response today. “
Henry Ashworth, chief executive of The Portman Group, which oversees the promotion of responsible drinking in the UK by the trade, said that it was “regrettable” that the guidelines still make reference to the view that there is “no safe level of drinking”.
“This message has been consistently advocated by Guidelines Development Group members with widely-reported temperance interests and ignores international and domestic evidence”, said Ashworth.
“Placed alongside low risk guidelines it will render the CMOs’ advice confusing and contradictory for consumers.”
To demonstrate the risk of moderate drinking, The Portman Group has produced an infographic (see below), which shows that eating two bacon sandwiches a week is more dangerous to your health than drinking up to 14 units of alcohol per week.
The UK is now one of just six countries in the world that recommend the same levels of alcohol intake for both men and women.
The risk of drinking alcohol in context, by The Portman Group