Drinkers should have two alcohol-free days a week
Monday 09 January 2012
Drinkers should give themselves two alcohol-free days a week, a committee of MPs said today.
The Commons' Science and Technology Committee believed abstaining from alcohol at least twice a week would help people's health.
Revealing the findings of their inquiry, the MPs also demanded a review of sensible drinking guidelines amid fears they are unclear, and called on ministers to “exercise proper scrutiny and oversight” over how health messages collided with the industry's “business objectives”.
Committee chairman Andrew Miller said: “While we urge the UK health departments to re-evaluate the guidelines more thoroughly, the evidence we received suggests the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week.”
“Sensible” drinking limits were defined 25 years ago as 21 units of alcohol a week for men and 14 for women.
But new evidence in the 1990s claiming drinking could help prevent heart disease prompted ministers to advise daily limits of up to four units a day for men and three for women.
The Royal College of Physicians' special adviser on alcohol, Sir Ian Gilmore, echoed calls for a review of guidelines and demanded a minimum price for alcohol.
He said: “The RCP believes that in addition to quantity, safe alcohol limits must also take into account frequency.
“There is an increased risk of liver disease for those who drink daily or near-daily compared with those who drink periodically or intermittently.”
Labour MP Mr Miller 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.”
The cross-party committee found experts disagreed over potential benefits from drinking and the MPs were “sceptical” about using them as recommendations for all adults, given benefits would only apply to men aged over 40 and post-menopausal women.
The Government and drinks industry plans to ensure more than 80% of cans and bottles label alcoholic unit content and drinking guidelines by December 2013.
But the MPs wanted a review of how the initiative was working a year earlier.
The Wine and Spirit Trade Association, which represents more than 340 companies, welcomed the MPs' “recognition of the important role the alcohol industry has to play in communicating sensible drinking messages”.
Spokesman Gavin Partington said: “People want simple, consistent advice on how to drink responsibly.
“Through our commitment to the responsibility deal, the vast majority of alcohol labels on UK shelves will contain responsible drinking guidelines by 2013, supported by point-of-sale information in both the on-and-off trades.”
The Portman Group, which works with alcohol producers to ensure drinks are marketed and sold responsibly, welcomed the report.
Chief executive Henry Ashworth said: “We firmly believe that education and information are essential to drive culture change and welcome the committee's recognition that the co-operation of the drinks industry is vital in achieving this.”
Andrew Langford, chief executive of the British Liver Trust, said: “I welcome the notion of the working group to review the guidelines, yet the members should be health and scientific experts and definitely not representatives of the alcohol retail industry.
“The Trust also supports the recommendation that the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two consecutive alcohol-free days a week.”
Mr Langford added: “However, we would like bolder steps taken and believe it would support public understanding if the health warnings that were included are similar to that on tobacco products, clearly stating the potential harm, providing immediate and easy-to-understand awareness.”
A Department for Health spokesman said: “It's crucial that people have good advice about alcohol so they can take responsibility for their own health.
“The current guidelines were developed following a thorough review of the evidence and consultation with experts. We will consider these recommendations and look at whether it is necessary to review our guidance.
“Next month, we are launching new Change4Life adverts which will advise people about the harm alcohol can do to our health. We will also shortly be publishing a strategy to tackle alcohol misuse.”
Andrew Miller, chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “The limits are there and have been in place for a long time. We think there should be a detailed, scientific review covering those limits again because the last review was in 1987.
“One thing that is clear from the scientific evidence we looked at is our bodies recover better if we have a couple of days alcohol-free. This is not a message that says go out binge- drinking - absolutely the opposite.
“A couple of pints a day, seven days a week, is not a good idea - a couple of days free is a good idea.
“Equally, consuming huge volumes in binge episodes is equally bad for you.
“Evidence suggests behaviour has changed since 1987, particularly with young people binge-drinking.
“But in terms of general well-being and general health, all the clinical evidence suggests, however a modest drinker you are, a couple of days alcohol-free is probably good for you.”
The report recommends that clinicians and behavioural experts get together to review guidance in an effort to help people navigate what is healthy for them to drink.
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