Joan Smith: We all need the best health advice around

The problem in this country is how many adults ignore it altogether

A couple of nights ago, I threw caution to the winds and drank a third of my "safe" weekly alcohol limit. Rather more in fact, because it was a large glass of white wine and new research suggests that the limit should be three small glasses a week. Three glasses: I can just imagine the response from people who spend their lives condemning the hated "nanny state".

There's a vocal lobby in this country which doesn't seem able to tell the difference between a legal limit and a recommendation. We've had legal restrictions on how much drivers can drink for years, which is a very good thing in terms of lives saved in accidents. But the amount we drink on other occasions is up to us, which is why we need the best possible information.

Researchers at Oxford University say a reduction in "safe" limits would save more than 4,500 lives a year from cancer, heart disease, stroke and liver disease. I don't suppose many social drinkers will cut their intake as drastically as the new study recommends, but I'm keen on informing people frankly about the effects of alcohol, food and immobility on the human body. We'll never have a population where everyone follows government recommendations to the letter, but I wish more people would treat them as sensible guidelines.

The problem is how many adults ignore health advice altogether. Alcoholism is a huge social problem and so is obesity. A couple of days ago, I walked past a shop where a hugely overweight assistant had slipped outside for a quick cigarette, and I couldn't believe that someone who already had a life-shortening condition was blithely risking lung cancer as well.

You may have seen photographs of the platform erected to winch an obese teenager, Georgia Davis, from her bedroom to a hospital in South Wales where she's been treated for diabetes, kidney failure and respiratory problems. It's a tragic situation for a young woman who's still only 19, and, despite her own poor health, her mother's registered carer. It's clear from what she says that she knows she needs help, but doesn't know where to get it.

At times like this, I can't help wishing we had more intervention in people's health, and to hell with complaints about the "nanny state". My GPs' surgery offers health check-ups which include weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and they say they're popular with patients – though possibly less so with individuals who know they eat and drink too much. What's wrong with telling people what's bad for them?

It may come as a shock to know that the "optimal" limit for drinking is so much lower than most of us believed. It may not even be achievable when wine and beer are so readily available, but we need to give more thought to the balance between pleasure and health.;