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UK alcohol consumption 'hugely' underestimated

Drinking on holiday, weddings and other celebrations accounts for 'missing units'

Mark Gould

Friday, 22 May 2015

Alcohol consumption in England has been underestimated by the equivalent of 12 million bottles of wine a week, according to new research*. The extra alcohol is consumed on holidays, at weddings, and during celebrations not accounted for by surveys that only ask questions about "typical drinking".

While sales figures have long suggested that people drink significantly more than official reports indicate, researchers writing in BMC Medicine have now uncovered the truth about the "missing units".

A team from Liverpool John Moores University conducted telephone interviews with 6,085 randomly selected members of the public in England who were asked about normal drinking patterns and those outside their usual circumstances.

Most categories of drinkers reported increased consumption during holidays or special occasions.

The biggest increase was seen in 25 to 35-year-olds, who had the highest level of typical consumption. People in this drinking category downed an extra 18 units (144 grams) of alcohol per week on special occasions.

Lead scientist Dr Mark Bellis, said: "Every week, the equivalent of over three-quarters of a bottle of wine per drinker goes unaccounted for. The problem is that surveys usually ask about typical drinking.

"This means summer holidays, bank holidays, weddings and many other special occasions when consumption often increases are left out.

"As a result, nationally we underestimate how much we drink and as individuals we can turn a blind eye to our heavier drinking periods when we calculate personal consumption."

Dr Bellis said that many people though these sessions add substantial amounts of alcohol to their annual consumption and inevitably increase their risks of developing alcohol-related ill health.

* Mark A Bellis, et al. Holidays, celebrations, and commiserations: measuring drinking during feasting and fasting to improve national and individual estimates of alcohol consumption. BMC Medicine 2015, 13:113. Doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0337-0

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