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Government alcohol guidelines

While the vast majority of us know how much we can drink before driving, we’re less certain about calculating the risks to our health.

The Government’s new guidelines on healthy drinking may be useful to some. But there’s still an issue for many when it comes to figuring out exactly how much they’ve drunk or what the numbers actually mean.

We all know if we fall over giggling or find ourselves singing whilst stood on a table that we’ve had more than enough. But it’s not always easy to know precisely how much we’ve had, in terms of alcoholic units, or what other factors might affect our individual intake.

The Government suggests we drink no more than 14 units a week. So, in theory, that’s 14 25ml shots of sprits, seven pints of 4% lager or six 175ml glasses of 13% wine a week.

However, the ‘one pint, two units’ comparison is clearly open to abuse. A 4% strength pint of lager is a very different proposition to a 5% one. Wine can generally run from 4% to 15%.

And we’re all very different. Does a unit of alcohol really mean the same thing for a skinny 18-year old that it does for a 20-stone pub veteran? Should we really be expected to carefully measure our drinks or get our calculators out as we pour a glass of wine at home?

Another issue is the medical wisdom of such a guideline. There’s such a huge amount of contradictory advice – most of it from extremely qualified sources – that it’s hard to know what information to believe.

There is compelling evidence to suggest that Britain’s Chief Medical Officer, Sally Davies, who announced the latest guidelines, is talking nonsense. Her suggestion that ‘There is no safe level of drinking’ has been widely mocked.
Tony Edwards, writing in The Mail, describes Davies as ‘simply wrong’ and goes on to list various studies that counter her suggestions. He cites numerous studies that suggest moderate drinking can be beneficial.

“Heart disease is the world's No 1 killer... and the No 1 medicine for preventing it is a moderate daily intake of alcohol, according to hundreds of medical studies,” Edwards suggests.

Julian Baggini, writing in The Guardian, also responded to Davies’ guidelines. Baggini suggested that the guidelines “ignore the numerous meta-surveys that have concluded that moderate drinking improves general health and life expectancy compared to being teetotal. Hence according to one such major study, drinkers are only at greater danger than non-drinkers once they are downing more than 4-5 units a day.”

The Government guidelines, then, offer little more than a broad, overbearing suggestion that many medical experts dispute. The idea that more than one unit of alcohol is harmful doesn’t stand up to serious scrutiny.

The guidelines are meant to increase awareness, and to help improve health. As it stands, they’re not much use. Why listen to any 'drinking experts' if they all have very different ideas on safe drinking? The informed response to the guidelines suggests a more reasonable message might be: ‘Everything in moderation’.

On another note, AB InBev, the company behind Stella Artois, Becks and Budweiser, will shortly include handy calorie information on their bottles. Such information can leave you with little excuse if your waistline expands. And, usefully, if you can no longer read said calorie information, you’ve probably had enough to drink.

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