United Kingdom: Health chiefs attacked over ‘nanny state’ alcohol guide
Chief Medical Officer accused of “scaremongering” in advice about light and moderate consumption
Source: Daily Telegraph
By Laura Donnelly, Health Editor
08 Jan 2016
Moderate drinking is no more dangerous than driving, health chiefs have admitted – as they came under fire over “nanny state” guidance which says one glass of wine raises the risk of cancer.
New advice from the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) slashes recommended drinking limits for men in line with those for women, and says that there is no safe level of alcohol at all.
The official guidance says that if people do drink, the maximum amount they should consume is 14 units a week – a sharp reduction from the 21 unit previously set for men.
In recent years, there has been growing evidence linking alcohol consumption with cancer.
But this is the first time official guidance has suggested that even an occasional sherry or weekly pint could raise the risk of disease.
It comes despite admissions in the report that the risks of drinking in line with recommended limits are comparable to those from “regular or routine activities, such as driving”.
The new guidance says evidence that alcohol, such as red wine, is beneficial for health “is considered less strong than it was”.
On Thursday night, officials were accused of “nanny state” tactics and “scaremongering” the public – and for detailing advice which some might consider common-sense, such as not to take to drink before going up ladders.
The guidance sets out scientific evidence about the links between alcohol and cancer, the risks of which sharply increase with heavy drinking.
But health officials were accused of going too far in their advice about light and moderate consumption.
Links between breast cancer and alcohol are long established. The research published with the advice shows that drinking within the guidelines carries an increased risk of disease, raising lifetime risk to 12.64 per cent, compared with 10.90 per cent for teetotallers.
For men the dangers of drinking at these levels are far less clear.
The report warns of increased risk for several types of disease – but they are among some of the least common cancers, such as that of the oesophagus and lip.
The advice from Prof Dame Sally Davies is the first new guidance on alcohol for 20 years.
She said: “Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low.
“What we are aiming to do with these guidelines is give the public the latest and most up- to-date scientific information so that they can make informed decisions about their own drinking and the level of risk they are prepared to take.”
Current guidance sets out recommended daily limits for alcohol.
But the new advice suggests people should have several booze-free days a week – though consumers are warned not to “save up” their units for a binge-drinking session.
Those who do drink up to the recommended limits should spread their drinking across at least three days, the guidance says.
Consumers are advised to limit the total amount of alcohol they drink on any occasion.
They should also drink more slowly, consume it with food, and alternate alcohol with water. Furthermore, people should avoid “risky places and activities” and ensure they get home safely to reduce some of the biggest harms from binge-drinking – accidents and injuries, the CMO warns.
Studies have repeatedly suggested that drinking red wine in moderation can protect the heart. But the new report says that this only applies to women aged 55 and over – and only if they limit it to small quantities.
The guidance also says pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether as there is no evidence for a “safe” drinking level in pregnancy.
Critics questioned why the advice to the general public went so far.
Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Alcohol consumption has been falling for a decade. The change to the guidelines will turn hundreds of thousands of people into ‘hazardous drinkers’ overnight thereby reviving the moral panic about drinking in Britain and opening the door to yet more nanny state interventions.
“People deserve to get honest and accurate health advice from the Chief Medical Officer, not scaremongering.”
Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said some might consider the pleasures of moderate drinking outweighed the risks being highlighted.
“These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1 per cent chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition,” he said. “An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health.”
Prof Matt Field, Professor of Addiction, University of Liverpool, said the advice would help people to make an informed choice.
“Any amount of alcohol consumption carries some risk. However, it is important to bear in mind that most activities that people undertake on a daily basis – e.g. driving to work – carry some risk, and people need to make informed choices about the level of risk that they are prepared to accept,” he said.
Asked whether Prime Minister David Cameron thought hard-working Britons should be able to enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day, his official spokeswoman said: “I think that’s a choice for hard-working Brits to make in the comfort of their own households or wherever they are.”
Prof Peter Anderson, Professor of Substance Use, Policy and Practice, Newcastle University, said the 14 unit limit might seem low to many, but reflected scientific evidence. However, he said the advice from the CMO was “long, vague and hard to understand.”
Professor Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, welcomed the recommendations, especially on having several alcohol-free days, while avoiding binge-drinking.
She said: “We as a nation need to move to a healthier approach to alcohol to reduce risks to health and life, and also reduce the massive burden on the NHS as a result of alcohol consumption.”
Link to story and charts, worth a read: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/12088101/Health-chiefs-attacked-over-nanny-state-alcohol-guide.html