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UK Public-Health Alcohol Guidelines Aren’t Safe, Say Experts

posted 02:05 AM EST, Sun August 02, 2009
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UK Public-Health Alcohol Guidelines Aren’t Safe, Say Experts © Photo Credit: Dno1967

British alcohol experts have condemned public-health guidelines for alcohol use, saying they aren’t based on any empirical evidence and could convince alcohol users that it is OK to drink daily.

According to the British government, men should not exceed 3 or 4 drinks daily and women should stick with 2 or 3. These limits, say Dr. Nick Sheron of the Alcohol Health Alliance, were devised by “civil servants” without good evidence and may be giving people the wrong ideas about safe drinking habits, particularly that it is OK to drink daily.

Dr. Sheron much prefers older drinking guidelines that were based on a total weekly allowance of 21 units of alcohol per week for men and 14 units of alcohol per week for women (one oz of 40% alcohol equates to 1 British unit, one standard can of beer is 1.5 British units.) These weekly guidelines said Dr. Sheron, “were based on robust studies and were set at a level at which alcohol harms outweigh any putative benefit."

Weekly alcohol guidelines were jettisoned in favor of the new daily drinking recommendations after policy makers feared that people would simply “save up” their weekly alcohol allowance for occasional binge drinking sessions – not what the government hoped to induce.

It’s OK to Drink Every Day?

The original governmental “daily allotment” guidelines cautioned imbibers to take drink-free days, a message that has since disappeared from the recommendations, presumably to enhance the simplicity of the message.

Dr. Sheron worries that the guidelines give people the green light to drink daily, and Dr. Rachel Seabrook, of the Institute of Alcohol Studies, echoes Sheron’s concerns, saying, "The Royal Colleges' recommendation for two days of abstinence a week has quietly disappeared. It was probably dropped to keep the message simple. But that is not a good move."

The British government defends its guidelines, saying that they are based on an “inter-departmental” review from 1995.

Risk of liver damage begins at a consumption level of about 30 units per week, which is roughly sanctioned under the current governmental recommendations for men. The risk of certain cancers increases proportionally as alcohol consumption increases.

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