Older people drinking at harmful levels is a 'hidden middle class phenomenon' say experts

If you're well 50+, well-educated and are socially active, you may well drink too much

Harmful drinking among middle-class over-50s is a 'hidden phenomenon'
Harmful drinking among middle-class over-50s is a 'hidden phenomenon'

Researchers have found that harmful drinking may be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people across England, according to a new report.

A new study published in the British Medical Journal Open has revealed that harmful drinking is a hidden “middle class phenomenon.”

The research, conducted by Professor José Iparraguirre, the Chief Economist at AGE UK, is based on the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing (ELSA), a long term study of men and women aged 50+ living independently in England. The data used comes from over 9000 representative responses.

The study concludes that the “harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ ageing process. Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people."

According to the scientists, harmful drinking for men is consuming 22-50 units a week, whilst for women the levels are between 15 and 35. Anything above this is considered "higher risk."

Harmful drinking among middle-class over-50s is a 'hidden phenomenon'

The Office for National Statistics have already worked out that middle aged people are "three times more likely to drink every day than younger people."

The new study looked at various factors that might impact harmful drinking levels amongst older people, with some surprising results.

For women, having an income was associated with an increased risk of drinking to excess, whilst smoking, higher educational attainment, and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.

Caring responsibilities lowered the probability of being at higher risk among women, but religious belief did not for either sex.

Employment status did not seem to be a significant factor, but women who had retired are more likely to be heavy drinkers it appears.

Amongst older people, people in better health and who are more socially more active are more inclined to drink at harmful levels too.

Professor Iparraguirre wrote in the closing paragraphs that “harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England as a middle class phenomenon: People in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels.”

“Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ ageing process,” he added.

The researchers are now calling for the "explicit incorporation" age-specific drinking guidelines to be targeted at older people.

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