Boozy Britons are drinking 108 bottles of wine a year – far more than the rest of the western world
Laura Donnelly, health editor
7 NOVEMBER 2019
The average Briton is now drinking 108 bottles of wine a year – far more than in the rest of the Western world, a major report shows.
The study of 36 nations shows that the UK’s alcohol consumption is now among the highest in developed countries.
It comes as separate figures show the number of pensioners starting treatment for alcohol problems has doubled in the past decade,
Health campaigners said baby boomers who grew up in a “hedonistic culture” in the 60s and 70s were consuming far more than younger drinkers, and turning “a blind eye” to the potential health risks.
The research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that adults in Britain are now consuming an average of 9.7 litres of pure alcohol a year.
This is the equivalent of 108 bottles of wine annually- or 427 pints of 4 per cent strength beer.
The figure is almost a litre higher than the OECD average, at 8.9 litres – amounting to an extra nine bottles of wine, or 35 pints of beer yearly.
The damning report warns that Britain’s habits are sending too many people to an early grave.
“Many British people lead unhealthy lifestyles”, the international research states, warning that levels of alcohol consumption and rates of obesity are both far above the OECD average.
Separate figures show the number of over 65s beginning NHS treatment for alcohol problems has doubled in the past decade, with 4,328 cases in 2018/19, up from 2,134 cases in 2008/9.
Meanwhile a fall in drinking among younger generations has seen the number of 18 to 24 year olds starting treatment fall by 76 per cent, the Public Health England figures show.
Dr Tony Rao, from the Addictions Faculty of The Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the trends among older drinkers were “alarming”.
He said: “What we are seeing here is particularly about baby boomers who are turning a blind eye to the repurcussions of drinking. These are people who grew up in an increasingly hedonistic culture, when wine was becoming far more affordable, and it became the norm to drink it regularly, and share a bottle over dinner.
“These are people born in the 50s, 60s and 70s, who haven’t significantly changed the habits they grew up with.”
Such drinkers tended to drink more wine and spirits than beer, often not realising just how much alcohol they were consuming, he said.
“The impact of this long-term is seen in liver disease, in alcohol related brain damage, dementia, cancer, blood pressure, strokes, in a whole range of health problems,” he said.
Experts said alcohol was a “ubiquitous” part of British culture, in a way that not all countries share.
Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: “In the UK we often drink more than we know is good for us – often more than we really want to.
“It’s easy to fall into the habit of drinking for every occasion – to socialise at the pub, to relax at home with a bottle of wine, to celebrate birthdays and weddings, to cope when things get tough.”
“But our drinking habits are causing more and more harm in the UK. Hospital admissions related to alcohol and alcohol-related deaths are both on the rise. In the UK in 2017 there were 7,697 deaths caused by alcohol – almost one an hour. This is the highest level since 2008.”
Dr Giota Mitrou, from the World Cancer Research Fund, said the UK trends were “startling”.
The report shows that Britain’s alcohol consumption is far higher than many European neighbours, including Sweden, Italy and Spain, as well as that of nations such as Australia, new Zealand and the United States.
Heavier drinking countries include Lithuania, Russia, Germany, France and Ireland.
The Alcohol Information Partnership, which represents the drinks industry, said: “The amount of alcohol people drink in the UK has been falling for more than a decade – people are leading more balanced lifestyles, especially among younger generations. But, where individuals are drinking to harmful levels, there should be targeted support available to help them change their habits.”
The international report, Health at a Glance, shows 64 per cent of adults are overweight or obese, compared with the OECD average of 56 per cent.
Authors said the “abusive use of opioids” is also a concern, the authors say, with a large increase in opioid-related deaths, reaching 41 deaths per million people in 2016, up from 28 deaths in 2011.
The report found the UK spends almost 10 per cent of its GDP on health, about one percentage point higher than the OECD average.
UK has fewer beds and doctors than other countries
The UK has the second lowest number of beds and medics in Europe, compared with its population, the report shows.
Britain has 2.8 doctors per 1,000 people, compared with an average of 3.5 doctors across all 36 OECD nations.
In Europe, only Poland has fewer medics, with 2.4 per 100,000 people.
Bed numbers are also among the lowest in Europe, with 2.5 per 100,000 people, compared with an OECD average of 4.7. Only Sweden has fewer, with 2.2 beds per 100,000 population.