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'The less you drink, the lower your risk' - experts welcome new alcohol guidance

Published 08/01/2016

Health experts and charities have welcomed new guidance on alcohol
Health experts and charities have welcomed new guidance on alcohol

Health experts and charities have welcomed new guidance on safer drinking levels.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's expert on cancer prevention, said: "The link between alcohol and cancer is now well established, and it's not just heavy drinkers who are at risk. There is no 'safe' level of drinking when it comes to cancer - the less you drink, the lower your risk."

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: "This is a real step in the right direction on alcohol in the UK.

"It's imperative that men and women fully understand the risks involved and that clear information about the alcohol content of all drinks is now provided."

Matt Field, professor of addiction at the University of Liverpool, said: "One of the most important changes is that there is no 'safe' level of alcohol consumption: any amount of drinking is associated with increased risk of a number of diseases; the often-reported 'protective' effects will not apply to the majority of people and where they do apply, they refer to very low levels of drinking.

"So, 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 (eg driving to work) carry some risk, and people need to make informed choices about the level of risk that they are prepared to accept."

Dr John Holmes, senior research fellow from the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group, said: "Having the same guidelines for men and women reflects that there are only very minor differences in alcohol-related health risk between the sexes at this level of consumption (ie up to 14 units per week).

"At higher levels of consumption, health risks from the same level of drinking are greater for women than for men."

Dr Holmes added that, while many scientific studies suggest moderate drinking can be good for the heart, researchers are increasingly concerned that problems with those studies mean any protective health effects have been substantially over-estimated.

Those problems include inadequately accounting for influences on health other than alcohol - for example, whether a person smokes or has a poor diet.

"Our analyses did take evidence of protective health effects at face value but still found that, after accounting for the health risks of drinking, any remaining protective effect was small, associated with very low levels of alcohol consumption and only likely to benefit specific groups in the population even if it was genuine."

Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said: "For years, many have been seduced into drinking more than they should in the belief that alcohol protects them from heart disease.

"However, this apparent 'protection' is now open to question and, with the other evidence demonstrating even small amounts increase other health risks including but not limited to weight gain and cancers, then it's clear that for many the less alcohol drunk the better.

"Hopefully these new messages will be a wake-up call for many and motivate them to moderate their intakes, with resulting improvement in health."

Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing for Public Health England, said: "Alcohol can harm individuals, their families and the community and it's crucial that we look more widely at what affects drinking behaviour in this country, such as marketing methods and pricing.

"Public Health England will soon be providing a report to Government on how we can reduce the harms caused by alcohol."

Professor Mark Bellis, the Faculty of Public Health's lead spokesperson for alcohol, said the guidance "sends out a clear message that there is no safe level of drinking alcohol".

He added: "We'd also like to see government help protect people's health by introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol."

A statement from the Portman Group, which represents the industry, said: "What is surprising is that the UK is breaking with established international precedent by recommending the same guidelines for men and women. It also means that UK men are being advised to drink significantly less than their European counterparts."

Camra chief executive Tim Page said: "We are uncertain whether there is sufficient agreement among experts to support these new guidelines.

"We will be consulting with our members and other consumers to find out their views on the guidance and will feed back their opinions to the Chief Medical Officer."

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