In England, who’s drinking the ‘missing’ alcohol?

UCL (UK) —Alcohol consumption in England may be higher than previously thought, with more than three quarters of people exceeding the recommended daily limit.

International studies have shown that self-reported alcohol consumption only accounts for between 40 to 60 percent of alcohol sales.

A recent study, published in the European Journal of Public Health, investigated the discrepancy to find the potential impact of this “missing” alcohol on public health.

“Currently we don’t know who consumes almost half of all the alcohol sold in England,” says Sadie Boniface, the study’s lead author and a researcher in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London.


“This study was conducted to show what alcohol consumption would look like when all of what is sold is accounted for, if everyone under-reported equally. The results are putative, but they show that this gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England.”

The Royal College of Physicians recommend weekly alcohol limits of 21 units for men and 14 units for women, while the UK Chief Medical Officers have recommended not to regularly exceed four units a day for men and three units a day for women.

After correcting the data for the under-reporting of alcohol consumption, researchers found that the prevalence of drinking more than the weekly guidelines increases by 15 percent in men and 11 percent in women, such that 44 percent of men and 31 percent of women exceed the guidelines. Similarly, the prevalence of drinking above the daily limit increases by 19 percent in men (to 75 percent) and 26 percent in women (to 80 percent).

The study also shows that when under-reporting is taken in to account, approximately half of men and women could be classed as “binge drinkers” (defined by the Department of Health as consuming more than eight units of alcohol in a single session for men, and more than six units for women).

“What’s needed now is a detailed understanding of whether some people under-report their consumption more than others: to what extent does this vary between men and women for example, by how much someone drinks, or by what types of drink they prefer,” Boniface says.

“Little is known on this at present, but this could reveal groups who under-estimate their alcohol consumption substantially, illuminating areas where targeted alcohol education initiatives should be developed.”

Source: University College London