Rise in heavy drinking set to defeat targets

General Household Survey: A nation's lifestyle and habits revealed


Public Policy Editor

The Government is set to miss its "Health of the Nation" targets for cutting smoking and drinking, the latest figures from the General Household Survey show.

The programme is already in trouble because smoking among children has increased rather than fallen. Obesity appears to be rising rather than dropping, and the latest figures for lung-cancer deaths among women under 75 are also moving in the wrong direction.

The survey of the nation's lifestyle in 1994 published yesterday suggest that the smoking targets for adults are also unlikely to be met - and that excessive alcohol consumption is moving the wrong way for both men and women. In 1994, more in both sexes were drinking above the "sensible" limits of 21 and 14 units a week respectively - and women's alcohol consumption has been on the increase for a decade.

Greater availability of drink in supermarkets and general stores over the past 20 years may help to explain that, Nikki Bennett, the head of the survey, said. "Alcohol is more readily available, but women also have increased independence and wider social lives now that more are working. More women have moved to college and away from home at an earlier age, and grown up in that culture."

Bob Barnes, director of social surveys for the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, added that more women combining work and home may have produced increased stress that had led to more drinking.

Smoking, by contrast, is declining among both men and women, but at an appreciably slower rate than in the Eighties. Smokers are down from 51 per cent of men in 1974 to 28 per cent, and from 41 per cent of women 20 years ago to 26 per cent.

On current progress, the target of fewer than one in five smoking by 2000 looks unlikely to be met for men, but may be achieved for women.

Men who smoked were much more likely to drink excessively than men who did not - one in three, compared with one in five - and women who smoked were twice as likely to drink too much.

The survey also shows a huge cut in pipe and cigar smoking - just 6 per cent of men smoked cigars in 1994 against 34 per cent in 1974, and pipe smoking declined from 12 to 3 per cent.

Despite the difficulties over some of the 27 targets, most are moving in the right direction, the Department of Health said, with two - a drop in suicides and a reduction in sexually transmitted disease - running ahead of target.

The annual survey shows a continued rise in single parents and more women cohabiting, while a growing proportion of the population lives alone - 15 per cent against 9 per cent in 1973.

It also shows that the numbers of elderly people who cannot get about alone or manage basic household tasks are not rising, despite the ageing of the population. Mr Barnes said yesterday that this suggests some of the more alarming predictions about the extra burden from an ageing population may be misplaced.

Since 1980, the proportion saying they find it hard to cope has remained broadly constant - although the figures relate only to those living at home, not to the 7 per cent of those over 65 in nursing and residential homes.

More of those over 65 now live alone than in1980 (39 per cent compared with 34 per cent) and almost 60 per cent report a long-standing illness or disability which for more than 40 per cent limits their activities. One in ten say that they cannot walk down the road or get up and down stairs alone, with 16 per cent saying they are unable to do their own shopping. The proportions rise sharply with age.

8 Living in Britain: results from the 1994 General Household Survey; HMSO; pounds 23.50.

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