Saturday 20 December 2014

Drinkers 'consuming almost double official estimates'

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Drinkers are consuming almost twice as much alcohol as official studies estimate, according to research which shows women are just as likely to ‘binge drink’ as men.

Nationwide surveys that purport to show the ‘average’ man and women drink much less than the recommended weekly limit are seriously flawed, according to public health experts at University College London.

In these surveys, people only admit to drinking about 60 per cent of the amount that actually gets bought, said the researchers.

Unless vast amounts are getting spilled or poured down plugholes, the discrepancy suggests people are being economical with the truth when it comes to their drinking habits.

The implication is that far more people are binge drinking than current estimates predict - particularly affluent women.

In addition, the research suggests the ‘average’ drinker is actually knocking back at least the weekly limit, week-in week-out, and probably more.

Doctors said the study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, was further evidence that the Government needed to hold its nerve and set the minimum price for alcohol at 50p per unit.

But the drinks industry argued it painted a “hypothetical” picture based on old data.

Sadie Boniface, the lead author, said: “We know that what people say they drink only amounts to about 60 per cent of alcohol sales. This is a pretty consistent picture over time and around the world.”

Such findings supported the adage “that GPs double the amount patients say they drink to get the true figure”, she said.

But what is drily called ‘selective reporting’ is only one reason for the chasm between reported and actual consumption, she explained.

“Particularly at home, people underestimate how much they drink. When you pour a drink, you don’t think how big or strong it is.

“People also forget. Drinking is an everyday activity, so people don’t find it easy to remember what they’ve drunk.”

Heavy drinkers also tend to avoid taking part in surveys like the General Lifestyle Survey (‘GLF’) and the Health Survey for England (HSE), which she and colleagues looked at.

Miss Boniface, a PhD student, also said people appeared more honest about drinking wine than they were about beer and spirits.

“Wine sounds cultured: it brings up images of drinking at the table with a meal. That isn’t the case with spirits.”

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said the study estimated 44 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women were exceeding weekly alcohol consumption guidelines.

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