Page last updated: March 31, 2016
UK new drinking guidelines continue to provoke media debate

Following the release of revised low risk drinking guidelines in January that saw the recommended weekly allowance for both men and women reduced to 14 units a week, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, told MPs “Do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine – think ‘Do I want the glass of wine or do I want to raise my own risk of breast cancer?’ I take a decision each time I have a glass.” Addressing the House of Commons science and technology committee, she insisted the advice was sensible, claiming: “I don’t know many men who drink half a glass of wine every day.”

She also added that claims red wine in particular could protect the heart were not as strong as previously thought, saying the NHS had “done so much with statins” and other treatments for heart disease that the case for drinking wine was weak. She reiterated that the guidance was “advice not instruction” and concluded: “I have to tell the truth and make sure that it’s out there and it should be 14 units [per week] spread over a few days for both men and women.” In The Sun, Two professors said Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies misled the public by stressing the dangers of having a tipple and not the benefits.Peter Diggle and Sir David Spiegelhalter, current and incoming presidents of the Royal Statistical Society warned the one-sided advice would reduce public trust in future health guidance.

The Spectator featured an article based on a presentation by Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, at the Spectator annual health debate 2016. The debate was entitled: ‘Can we trust health advice?’ He asks ‘Before answering the question of whether we can trust health advice we must first ask: ‘Which health advice?’ It varies so much over time and between countries. In 1979, the government advised men to drink no more than 56 units of alcohol a week’.

BBC Radio 4 proramme ‘More or Less’ questioned whether the benefits and harms of alcohol being judged correctly? In the BMJ, Professor Theresa Marteau argues that the UK’s new drinking guidelines are “unlikely to cut drinking directly”. But the new guidance has raised awareness of drinking harms and so may “shift public discourse on alcohol and the policies that can reduce our consumption,” she argues.

All text and images © 2003 Alcohol In Moderation.