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alcohol health alliance uk

New NHS campaign reveals unseen alcohol damage in Tyne and Wear

Posted 28/01/10

Just under half of drinkers in Tyne and Wear think only binge drinking harms their health

A new campaign backed by major health charities will warn drinkers of the unseen health damage caused by regularly drinking more than the NHS advises.

The £6 million Government funded campaign shows the damage that is being done to drinkers’ organs while they are drinking in a pub or at home.

This is being launched by Public Health Minister, Gillian Merron today and is part of the cross-Government strategy to tackle the harms that alcohol causes.

The Department of Health has developed the campaign in association with Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Stroke Association to create the series of stark TV, press and outdoor adverts showing the harm that regularly drinking more than two drinks a day can cause.

A new YouGov poll launched to coincide with the campaign shows that just under half (49%) of drinkers in Tyne and Wear misguidedly believe that alcohol only damages your health if you regularly get drunk or binge drink.

The survey of over 2,000 adults also found that, nationally, 83% of those who regularly drink more than the NHS recommended limits of 2-3 units a day for women (about two small glasses of wine) and 3-4 units a day for men (about two pints of lager) don’t think their drinking is putting their long-term health at risk.

With 10 million adults in England estimated to be drinking above the recommended limits, this is equivalent to around 8.3 million people potentially unaware of the damage their drinking could be causing.

Although 86% of Tyne and Wear drinkers surveyed knew that drinking alcohol is related to liver disease, far fewer realised it is also linked with breast cancer (10%), throat cancer (40%), mouth cancer (39%), stroke (39%) and heart disease (61%), along with other serious conditions.

Scientific evidence shows:

• you could be three times more likely to have a stroke and three times more likely to get mouth cancer if you’re a man regularly drinking more than two pints of strong lager a day; and

• you are 50% more likely to get breast cancer and twice as likely to have high blood pressure, which could lead to a stroke or a heart attack, if you’re a woman regularly drinking two large glasses of wine or more a day.

Public Health Minister, Gillian Merron said:

“Many of us enjoy a drink – drinking sensibly isn’t a problem. But, if you’re regularly drinking more than the NHS recommended limits, you’re more likely to get cancer, have a stroke or have a heart attack.

“With alcohol misuse damaging so many people’s health and lives, the Government has teamed up with Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Stroke Association to produce this hard-hitting campaign. It’s important to show drinkers the unseen damage alcohol can do to your body.”

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for England said:

“Over a quarter of the population regularly drink above the Government’s recommended daily limits, with over two and half million adults regularly drinking above the higher-risk levels, putting their health at risk of serious diseases and conditions. It is important that people realise the harm they, unknowingly, can cause to their health be regularly drinking more than recommendations daily limits.

“This campaign gives people the facts about the effect alcohol can have on their body and provides support for people who choose to drink less.”

Over 9,000 people in the UK die from alcohol-related causes each year. The World Health Organisation estimates that 20% of alcohol-related deaths are from cancer and 15% are from cardiovascular conditions such as heart disease and stroke, while 13% are from liver disease.

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, the North East alcohol office, said: “Most people who suffer from health problems because of their drinking are not alcoholics or binge drinkers but those who drink regularly over a number of years.

“Many suffer few immediate consequences, but over time it takes its toll. In the North East, rates of death from alcohol related liver disease increased by just under a third between 2004 and 2008, while alcohol specific hospital admissions are up to 62% higher than the national average.

“Regularly drinking more than the recommended number of units over a long period can result in a number of complications including certain types of cancer, especially breast cancer and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.”
He said that key to reducing the health risks was drinking within the recommended safe daily and weekly limits for alcohol.

“It’s easier to stay within the limits when you keep track of how much you are drinking,” he added.

“People are often surprised to find out how much they drinking on a regular basis as it is fairly common for us to underestimate how much we consume. Keeping a drinks diary is a perfect way to take stock and is a first step towards living a healthier life.”

Joe Korner, Director of Communications for The Stroke Association said:
“We are pleased to be involved in this campaign because it alerts people to the long term health risks of regular heavy drinking.

“Stroke is the biggest cause of severe adult disability and hits 150,000 people a year. So, it’s vital that people understand that women who persistently drink more than 3 units of alcohol a day and men who drink more then 4, are more likely to get high blood pressure, the single biggest risk factor for stroke.“

Dr. Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “While sensible drinking in moderation has been shown to offer some protection against heart disease, this should not be seen as a green light to start drinking.

“There are better ways to protect yourself from heart disease. The evidence is clear, regularly drinking above the recommended daily limits harms the heart as well as causing a host of other harmful effects.”

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of health information, said: "We know from decades of research that alcohol can increase the risk of several cancers including cancers of the breast, bowel, liver, mouth, foodpipe, throat and voicebox.

“Scientists estimate that alcohol is responsible for around 9,000 cancer deaths every year in the UK.

“Our bodies convert alcohol into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde which can lead to cancer by damaging DNA and stopping our cells from repairing this damage.

“Alcohol can also increase levels of oestrogen and unusually high levels of oestrogen can increase the risk of breast cancer. The simple message is that the more you drink the greater your cancer risk but the more you cut down the more you reduce that risk.”

The campaign website, launches on Monday 1 February and will feature interactive tools to arm people with the information they need to make healthier choices.