Why Brits roll their eyes at drinking guidelines

"These findings not only help to explain why some drinkers disregard current guidelines, but also show that people make decisions about their drinking by considering their responsibilities and lifestyle, rather than just their health," says Melanie Lovatt. (Credit: Olga Pavlovsky/Flickr)

People in the United Kingdom largely ignore their government’s alcohol guidelines because they’re not relevant to their actual drinking habits, a new¬†study shows.

The current UK drinking guidelines suggest men should not regularly exceed three to four units of alcohol a day, while women should not regularly drink more than two to three units daily.

The findings, published in the journal Addiction, show that people disregard the guidelines because the daily intake suggestions seem irrelevant in a country where most people don’t drink everyday but may drink heavily at the weekend.

The results also reveal that people think the recommended quantities of alcoholic drinks are unrealistic, as they don’t recognize that many people are motivated to drink to get drunk.

Researchers from the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, which includes the University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) and the Institute for Social Marketing at the University of Stirling, conducted focus groups to see how people 19-65 years old and from varied socioeconomic backgrounds perceive the current guidelines.

Researchers found that participants preferred the current Australian and Canadian guidelines, which include separate advice for regular drinking and for single occasion drinking, which were regarded as more relevant and flexible to occasional drinkers.

While participants did regulate their drinking, this was usually down to practical issues such as needing to go to work or having childcare responsibilities, rather than health concerns or due to guidance.

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“These findings not only help to explain why some drinkers disregard current guidelines, but also show that people make decisions about their drinking by considering their responsibilities and lifestyle, rather than just their health,” says study leader Melanie Lovatt of the University of Sheffield.

Presenting the guidelines in units was also seen as unhelpful as the majority of people measure their intake in the number of drinks or containers such as bottles, glasses, or pints they consume.

“This research was conducted in both Scotland and England illustrating that the findings have relevance for different parts of the country,” adds Professor Linda Bauld of the University of Stirling.

“Both policy-makers and health professionals may find the results useful in considering how people interpret current guidelines and any place these guidelines may have in providing information to advise people about alcohol consumption.”

The report comes from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group (SARG). The National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI) funded the research.

Source: University of Sheffield