Drinkers 'consuming almost double official estimates'
Published 27/02/2013 | 11:18
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.
If taken at face value, the HSE suggests 32 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women have a binge drinking session weekly. But after adjusting for unaccounted alcohol, the figures shoot up to 52 and 56 per cent respectively.
In particular, affluent women in southern England are much more likely to be binge drinking than previously thought.
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.
“This contradicts the claims of the alcohol industry that only a small minority drink too much, and is yet more evidence of the need for strong government action, including a minimum unit price for alcohol,” he said.
"The UK’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol is putting more and more strain on our hospitals as we struggle to cope with the rising tide of harm caused to health by alcohol misuse."
But Aileen Keyes, from the Wine and Spirits Trade Association, said: “This report fails to take account of real world information and instead uses data from 2008 to create a ‘hypothetical scenario’ based on academic modelling.”
Sales data from the Treasury showed alcohol consumption was “on a downward trend, dropping by 13 per cent since 2008”, she said.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We already know people underestimate what they drink and many drink too much. That's why we work to help people make healthier decisions, including the recent Change For Life campaign to help them track consumption and understand the impact on their health.
"We're also tackling excessive drinking through our proposed minimum unit price at 45p per unit, tougher licensing laws, more GP risk assessments, better access to specialist nurses and more specialised treatment."
Stephen Adams Telegraph.co.uk