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Public still largely ignorant of safe drinking guidelines

Only 16% of people aware of recommended guidelines

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 08 January 2018

Only 16% of people are aware of the officially recommended guidelines for consuming alcohol two years after these guidelines were announced, according to results of a survey released today.

The majority of people appear to be ignorant of the official guidelines which were announced by the UK’s chief medical officers in January 2016, found the survey carried out for the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA), the campaigning group made up of more than 40 organisations including the RCGP, BMA, Royal College of Physicians, and Alcohol Concern.

The low-risk weekly drinking guideline for adults is 14 units a week and for children, the advice is no alcohol, but in England, the chief medical officer says that if children do try alcohol, they should be at least 15 years old and in a supervised environment.

For the poll, 2,000 people across the UK were surveyed about their attitudes to alcohol on the AHA’s behalf by the national polling company OnePoll.

Results showed that only 16% of people were aware of the low-risk weekly drinking guideline of 14 units, only 3% of people were aware of the guidance that an alcohol-free childhood was best, and only 10% of people mentioned cancer when asked which diseases and illnesses were linked to alcohol.

Although awareness of the alcohol guidelines for both adults and children was low, the AHA’s survey found there was a desire for greater information on the risks linked with drinking.

The majority (81%) of people surveyed said they believed the weekly guidelines should appear on alcohol labels, and 78% believed labels should include a warning that exceeding the guidelines could damage health.

More than three quarters (77%) of people supported a cancer warning on alcohol product labels.

Around a half of people (55%) said they believed that providing children with alcohol in a supervised situation would ensure that they knew how to handle drinking when they were older.

Commenting on the results, AHA chair Professor Sir Ian Gilmore said more should be done to ensure the guidelines for both adults and children were communicated to the public.

“It is really disappointing that only 16% of the public are aware of the alcohol guidelines for adults, and that fewer than 1 in 20 are aware of the advice around children’s drinking,” said Professor Gilmore.

“The public have the right to know the chief medical officers’ guidelines, so that they are empowered to make informed choices about their drinking. The same applies to parents, who want to do the right thing by their children and deserve to be informed of the chief medical officers’ guidance on children and alcohol.

“The government should introduce mandatory labelling of all alcoholic products, to ensure that the public and parents are fully informed about the risks. In addition, the government should develop national information campaigns, informing the public and parents of the guidelines for both adults and children.”

Caroline Moye, head of World Cancer Research Fund UK, said: “AHA’s new research shows a clear public call for alcohol product labels to carry a warning about the link between alcohol and cancer, and the government should put these warning labels in place. Government cannot leave the communication of cancer risks to the alcohol industry.”

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