Alcohol drinkers should have two ‘dry’ days a week say MPs
Alcohol drinkers should have two alcohol free days every week warn MPs- who claim current guidelines give the false impression that daily consumption is healthy.The Science and Technology Committee says current advice on “regular” safe intake is confusing, and wrongly leads people to believe that enjoying a few pints of beer or glasses of wine every day will not harm health.
It wants the Department of Health in England to carry out the first proper review of drinking guidance in more than 15 years, which should follow the example of Scotland in recommending two “dry” days a week.
The MPs also want new rules on what would count as a dangerous night of “binge-drinking”, new lower safe levels for older people and a website where people can work out individual intake based on their age, weight and family history.
They say few people understand what constitutes an alcoholic unit, the basis of the drinking advice, and tell ministers that the guidelines do not seem to change behaviour.
Although the Committee’s report concedes that the drinks industry is needed to help improve labelling on bottles and glasses, it warns of potential conflicts of interest if the Government works too closely with brewers and shops.
Andrew Miller, the Committee’s chairman, 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.”
The MPs’ report, published on Monday following public hearings and written submissions last year, states that the first Government health advice on sensible drinking was not published until the 1980s.
Originally, the public were told that men could safely have 18 “standard drinks” a week and women half that number, while in 1987 this was revised in favour of weekly “sensible limits” of 21 units for men and 14 for women.
Medical research later suggested that moderate daily alcohol intake could be good for the health, by lowering levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, while giving weekly limits could “mask episodes of heavy drinking”. In 1995, therefore, daily limits were introduced that recommended men should not drink more than three to four units a day, and women two to three.
Some experts, however, raised concerns that this switch from weekly to daily limits appeared to increase the weekly “allowance” of alcohol while also appearing to “endorse daily drinking”.
The MPs say more recent studies have cast doubt on the health benefits of regular drinking, and recommend that England follows Scotland’s lead in urging “at least two alcohol-free days a week”.
They back current specific advice for children and pregnant women, and say “there could be merit” in producing new rules for older people as well as limits for “individual drinking episodes”, but find no evidence for increasing current general safe limits.
The Committee says an expert group, including civil servants as well as scientists, should review current evidence on the health effects of alcohol in order to “increase public confidence”.
They say people should be made aware of the difference between the short-term effects of binge drinking and the long term harm caused by alcoholism, and should be helped to understand how many units are in different drinks.
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