Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Misleading recommendations

Safe drinking units are
based on unsound data

The government's new drive against binge drinking is based on totally unscientific data about "units of alcohol". It has been the "wisdom" since the 1980s that a half pint of beer equals one unit of alcohol and drinkers should restrict themselves to around 20 units a week or run the risk of serious health problems. Yet a few months ago one of the people who drew up the list of units back in the 1980s admitted that the figures have no scientific basis and were "plucked out the air" at the time.
Yet the government's new campaign still uses the same number of units. The recommended number of units are quite useless where beer is concerned: a half pint of Dark Mild at 3% is a different beast to a 8% "head banger" strong lager.
I am all in favour of moderate drinking -- I am renowned as a figure of great moderation -- but if the government wants people to take its campaign seriously then it really need to present us with up-to-date and scientifically-based information about what constitutes "safe drinking" levels.


Blogger Zak Avery said...

There are two issues here - the issue of safe limits, and the issue of counting units.

The "safe limits" were plucked out of thin air, and are a nonsense, dependent on many more factors than your sex. There is huge individual variation in the way that people process andreact to alcohol, and anyway, beer is such an inefficient means of getting drunk that you'll be fat and skint long before you develop a serious alcohol-related illness.

The issue of units seems complex, but is relatively simple. All you have to remember is that a unit is 1cl of alcohol, so a beer with an abv of 5% has five units per litre, or roughly 2.5 per pint (actually 2.84 - multiply the abv by .568 to get the unit value). But really, as you point out Roger, moderation is the key, rather than some spurious notion of "knowing your limits", and drinking up to and beyond them.

20 May 2008 at 22:37  
Blogger Stonch said...

Be fair. If the government went into that much detail in the ads they produce, the message they wanted to convey would be lost. The vast majority of beer sold lies in the range of 3.8% to 5.2% (i.e from Carlsberg to Stella!) and giving an approximate figure per pint based on that realistic range is a reasonable thing to do.

The whole tendency to demonise drink when faced with our nation's health problems is of course one I'm uncomfortable with, but I don't want to pour too much scorn on the authorities.

21 May 2008 at 10:00  
Blogger Zak Avery said...

On the contrary, it seems eminently sensible to give people the tools to figure out exactly how much alcohol they are taking on board. It's fairly basic maths - half the abv for the units in a pint of beer. A single measure of whisky is a unit.

A glass of wine is, well, how many glasses to the bottle? Three or four? And how strong is the wine? 14%? OK, so that's err... fourteen units to a litre... ummm... three quarters of fourteen is, well let's say three and a half times three, which is ten and a half, so at four glasses to the bottle, that's.... errrr.... ten and a half divided by four... about two and a half?

Sticking to beer and whisky is simpler.

21 May 2008 at 22:47  

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