A nation of 'secret boozers': English people underestimate how much alcohol they drink

Studies show self-reported alcohol consumption accounts for only 40 to 60 per cent of sales

England is a nation of secret boozers, with more than a third of the population drinking unhealthy quantities of alcohol, new research suggests.

The finding, which also uncovers high levels of binge drinking, is based on the discrepancy between alcohol sales and the amount people say they drink in surveys.

International studies show that self-reported alcohol consumption only accounts for between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of sales.

After taking this into account, an estimated 44 per cent of men and 31 per cent of women in England were found to be drinking more than the Royal College of Physicians' safety guidelines for weekly alcohol consumption.

The RCP recommends limits of 21 units of alcohol a week for men and 14 for women. A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, or nearly one small glass of wine.

Lead researcher Sadie Boniface, from University College London, said: "Currently we don't know who consumes almost half of all the alcohol sold in England. This study was conducted to show what alcohol consumption would look like when all of what is sold is accounted for, if everyone under-reported equally.

"The results are putative, but they show that this gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England."

The missing alcohol intake increases the prevalence of unhealthy weekly drinking by 15 per cent in men and 11 per cent in women.

Three-quarters of the population were said to be drinking more than the limits for daily consumption recommended by the Department of Health. These are set at four units a day for men and three for women.

After factoring in under-reporting, the study also suggests that around half of all English men and women can be classified as binge drinkers.

Binge drinking is defined by the Department of Health as consuming more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, and more than six units for women.

The adjustment pushes up levels of binge drinking most among women, those on high incomes, and people living in the south of England.

The research is published today in the European Journal of Public Health.

Ms Boniface's team drew on self-reported data from two major surveys on alcohol consumption conducted in 2008.

The General Lifestyle Survey (GLF) recorded average weekly alcohol intake among 12,490 adults in England. Daily consumption was assessed by the Health Survey of England (HSE) which examined reported alcohol consumption of 9,608 adults on the heaviest drinking day of the previous week.

"What's needed now is a detailed understanding of whether some people under-report their consumption more than others: to what extent does this vary between men and women for example, by how much someone drinks, or by what types of drink they prefer," Ms Boniface added.

"Little is known on this at present, but this could reveal groups who under-estimate their alcohol consumption substantially, illuminating areas where targeted alcohol education initiatives should be developed."

Shadow public health minister Diane Abbott said: "This has got to be a wake-up call for the Government and the country, because after more than two years of bitter internal rows, the Government has got cold feet about its only proposed alcohol harm policy.

"More needs to be done to tackle problem drinking, which costs the country £21 billion - money we cannot afford.

"I'm absolutely clear that we need to see huge change in our hospitals and high streets - nothing short of a political and cultural earthquake.

"Labour support a minimum unit price but it won't work on its own, and the Government has so far resisted stronger action on prevention.

"Educating young people on the risks of alcohol has been removed from the curriculum and the Government voted against our proposals for stronger licensing powers for local councils to take action in their areas."

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."

PA

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

    £64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

    Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam