CMO toughens alcohol guidelines

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Dame Sally DaviesMen should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, according to strict new guidelines from the chief medical officer. The previous recommendation was 14 units for women and 21 for men.

The Department of Health (DH) says the revised guidelines are based on a ‘detailed review of the scientific evidence’ and supported by a new statement from the Committee on Carcinogenity (CoC) on the links between alcohol and cancer. ‘Drinking any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers,’ states DH.

The new guidelines also recommend that people do not ‘save up’ their units for one or two heavier drinking sessions, as well as urging people to drink more slowly, alternate alcoholic drinks with water and have ‘several alcohol-free days a week’. They also revise the existing guidance for pregnant women, stating that ‘no level of alcohol’ is safe, rather than the previously recommended one to two units.

The aim is to reduce the mortality risk from cancer and other diseases, says the government, as the ‘links between alcohol and cancer were not fully understood’ when the guidelines were first published in 1995.

‘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 illnesses like cancer and liver disease low,’ said chief medical officer Dame Sally 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 new guidelines were welcomed by Alcohol Concern as way of raising awareness of potential health harms. ‘Beyond liver disease, the public’s understanding of the health problems associated with alcohol is low,’ said chief executive Jackie Ballard. ‘The public have a right to know what they’re consuming and these recommendations are designed to allow people to make an informed choice about how much they drink.’

Industry body the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), however, warned that the male recommendations now put the UK ‘well out of line’ with comparable countries such as Spain (35 units), Italy (31.5) or the US (24.5). ‘In other countries, most guidelines recognise the difference in terms of physiology and metabolism between men and women,’ said chief executive Brigid Simmonds. Cutting the limit also meant classifying ‘a whole new group of males’ as at-risk drinkers, she said, with the ‘real danger’ that people would simply ignore the advice.

A statement from the Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) at www.gov.uk