The Government’s current alcohol guidelines are unrealistic and largely ignored because they have little relevance to people’s drinking habits, according to a new report by the University of Sheffield’s Alcohol Research Group (SARG) in collaboration with the University of Stirling.
The study, which is the first of its kind, explored how drinkers make sense of the current UK drinking guidelines which suggest men should not regularly exceed three to four units of alcohol a day, while women should not regularly drink more than two to three units daily.
Leading researchers from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, which includes the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) and the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, conducted focus groups to see how the current guidelines were perceived by people aged between 19-65 years-old and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds.
The findings, published in the journal Addiction, show that the guidelines are generally disregarded as the daily intake suggestions are deemed irrelevant in a country where most people don’t drink everyday but may drink heavily at the weekend.
The results also revealed that people think the recommended quantities of drink are unrealistic, as they don’t recognise that many people are motivated to drink to get drunk.
Researchers found that participants preferred the current Australian and Canadian guidelines, which include separate advice for regular drinking and for single occasion drinking, which were regarded as more relevant and flexible to occasional drinkers.
While participants did regulate their drinking, this was usually down to practical issues such as needing to go to work or having childcare responsibilities, rather than health concerns or due to guidance.
Presenting the guidelines in units was also seen as unhelpful as the majority of people measure their intake in the number of drinks or containers such as bottles, glasses or pints they consume.
Melanie Lovatt from the University of Sheffield, who led the study said: “These findings not only help to explain why some drinkers disregard current guidelines, but also show that people make decisions about their drinking by considering their responsibilities and lifestyle, rather than just their health.”
Professor Linda Bauld from the University of Stirling said: “This research was conducted in both Scotland and England illustrating that the findings have relevance for different parts of the country. Both policy makers and health professionals may find the results useful in considering how people interpret current guidelines and any place these guidelines may have in providing information to advise people about alcohol consumption.”
The study was funded by the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI). The NPRI is a major national initiative, managed by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and supported by 16 government departments, research councils and major medical charities.
Its core aim has been to support research which is focused on preventing non-communicable diseases through influencing health behaviours such as diet, alcohol consumption and physical activity. The NPRI partners have completed four funding calls and supported 74 projects, having provided a commitment of £34 million.