In Depth

New alcohol health advice branded 'scaremongering'

Critics not impressed over call for men to drink no more than women

alcohol-pricing.jpg

Britain's chief medical officer has been accused of "scaremongering" and feeding "moral panic" after producing the first government advice on alcohol intake in 20 years.

The new guidelines from Professor Dame Sally Davies have substantially reduced the recommended maximum intake for men, bringing it down to 14 units a week. This makes the UK one of only a handful of countries to suggest the same limits for men as for women.

The report defines consuming three pints of beer in one session as "binge drinking" and warns that the evidence showing the health benefits of red wine is "considered less strong than it was".

It adds that there is no safe level at all.

However, the report does admit that the risks from drinking at the acceptable limits are comparable to those from "regular or routine activities, such as driving", opening itself up to accusations of "nanny state" interventionism, says the Daily Telegraph.

Other advice, which the newspaper says "some might consider common sense", includes a warning not to drink alcohol before climbing ladders.

The report also lays out the evidence that alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer. It has been long known that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of breast cancer, but the risks associated with other diseases are less clear.

"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," said Prof Davies.

"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."

The report came under immediate criticism, with Christopher Snowdon, the head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, accusing Prof Davies of "scaremongering".

"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," he said.

"People deserve to get honest and accurate health advice from the chief medical officer, not scaremongering."

Meanwhile, Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, claimed that "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" than drinking the recommended maximum.

The new guidelines were welcomed by the Royal College of Physicians, however, which said that a "healthier approach" to the issue could "reduce the massive burden on the NHS". 

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