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Nearly half a million North East drinkers may be exceeding limits

Nearly half a million North East drinkers may be exceeding limits

Nearly half a million North East drinkers may be exceeding limits

Posted 14/05/18

New figures suggest nearly half a million adults in the North East are drinking enough alcohol to increase the health risks – with the majority under-estimating their intake and most not aware of alcohol guidelines.

And the figures, released by Balance, show that it is not young people who are most likely to be drinking above the “low risk” guideline of 14 units per week – but adults aged 45-54.

The research has been released for the relaunch of the Balance “Can’t See It” campaign highlighting that drinking increases the risks of seven different types of cancer. With 89% of North East adults drinking (around 1,869,000 people), it suggests:

• Over 1 in 4 North East drinkers (26%) are exceeding the Chief Medical Officer guidelines of no more than 14 units per week to stay “low risk”. That suggests an estimated 485,940 people exceeding the recommended guideline.
• The heaviest drinking is seen among people aged 45-54, with 30% of drinkers in that age group exceeding the weekly guidelines of no more than 14 units per week
• More than 8 out of 10 (84%) people drinking above 14 units per week consider themselves to be light or moderate drinkers. This suggests an estimated 408,189 adults in our region drinking at increasing or higher risk levels while under-estimating their own drinking risks.

The Chief Medical Officer guideline for men and women is that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level. The guideline was launched in January 2016 but only around 16% of North East adults were aware of the figure by 2017.

Balance is encouraging people to take at least 2 or 3 days off drinking every week as a way of cutting down to 14 units or under and reducing the risks of an alcohol related disease.

The first two phases of the Can’t See It campaign resulted in nearly 3/10 adults who recalled it saying it made them feel they should monitor their drinking, and nearly 1 in 10 cutting down or stopping drinking – an estimated 90,000 people each phase.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “Despite the region having the highest rate of Dry January sign ups, it’s worrying that so many people in the North East are drinking above the guidelines, putting them at greater risk of cancer and other health conditions such a heart disease or stroke.

“Our figures suggest most people drinking above the recommended limits aren’t aware of these guidelines, and are underestimating how much they drink and the potential health risks. This is why we are arguing for units to be included on alcohol packaging and for the government to invest in information campaigns to help people make more informed choices.

“The focus is often on young people’s binge drinking. But it might be a surprise that it is people in their 40s and 50s who are more likely to be regularly drinking above 14 units rather than people in their late teens or twenties. This is why we are urging people to consider what they are drinking. Taking more days off is a good way to reduce your intake.”

A report from the Alcohol Health Alliance (AHA) in 2017 found that most alcohol products did not include the up to date guidance of 14 units a week for men and women. Out of 315 labels across 27 UK locations, the AHA found only one informed the public of the low-risk weekly drinking guideline of 14 units a week. They found that none had health warnings featuring specific illnesses or recommending drink-free days.

Dr Tony Branson, Medical Director for the Northern Cancer Alliance, said: “Just like tobacco, alcohol is a cause of cancers of the bowel, mouth, throat and oesophagus. It is very easy for the units to mount up. There is no "safe" limit but reducing how much you drink can help to reduce the risk.

“It may be tempting to think that overdoing it on a few bottles of wine every week doesn’t carry the same health risks. But the fact is that all alcohol carries the same health risks and there are no safe limits. Alcohol is in the same cancer-causing category as tobacco and asbestos. It affects our bodies in a number of ways which can increase the risks of developing at least seven different types of cancer.”

What is the guidance?

The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for both men and women is that:
• To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
• If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.
• If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long term illness and from accidents and injuries.
• The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.
• The health harms from regular drinking of alcohol can develop over many years. These illnesses, including various cancers, strokes, heart disease, liver disease, and damage to the brain and nervous system, can develop despite drinking for years without any apparent harm.
Fourteen units of alcohol is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or six medium glasses of wine. However - just one pint of strong lager or a large glass of wine can contain more than three units of alcohol.
Previously the recommended limit to stay low risk for men was 21 units. However in 2016 this was reduced down to 14 units based on two pieces of new evidence:
• The supposed benefits for heart health of drinking alcohol are less and apply to a smaller group of the population than previously thought.
• Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing a range of cancers