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Alcohol limits

UK: Healthy alcohol limits likely to be increased

The UK government is to review the current advice to the public on safe drinking levels, with the likelihood that the limits would be raised, reports The Independent.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee will examine evidence behind current UK guidelines, which state that men should not regularly drink more than four units of alcohol a day, equivalent to two pints of beer, and women should have no more than three units – or a large glass of wine.

The existing advice is based on recommendations from a committee of doctors in 1987 which set the weekly limits of 21 units for men, and 14 units for women. But the review comes as one of the members of the original Royal College of Physicians’ working party on the subject admitted that the figures were “plucked out of the air” in the absence of clear evidence about how much alcohol poses a health risk.

Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal and a member of the college’s working party on alcohol, said that the committee could find “no decent data” on the subject, but had felt obliged to make recommendations.

MPs will also look at how UK guidelines compare with those provided in other countries. While several countries have similar advice to that of the UK, and a small number set lower limits, many set their risk thresholds far higher.

Italy’s recommendations allow the equivalent of an extra bottle of wine a week, on top of Britain’s 21 units, which equals just over two bottles of wine, at 12 per cent strength.

France, Portugal, New Zealand and Japan allow more than half a bottle extra a week, limits in Spain and Ireland mean almost two more glasses more while the limit in Holland is just above that of Britain.

Countries with slightly lower thresholds than the UK include Finland and Australia, while Poland and Sweden advise weekly limits almost half as low as those in the UK.

UK advice also says women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol, and if they do drink, should not have more than 1 to 2 units once or twice a week.

Sir Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians said: “I welcome the fact the committee is looking at this – it is good to have as much scientific rigour about this as possible.

“That said, I think it is really important that we have concrete, simple guidelines, that make sense to everyone.”

Gavin Partington, from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said its members welcomed the review.

He said: “The current recommendations are based on a kind of guessing game, at a time when the evidence was not clear. There is ample evidence today to show that alcohol in moderation is good for the health, just as drinking to excess is bad for the health. What we want to see are guidelines which look at the full picture.”

Earlier this year, research published by the British Medical Journal found that drinking a glass of wine or pint of beer every evening reduces the risk of heart disease by up to a quarter.

The committee of MPs will also examine the Government’s attempts to educate the public about the dangers of excessive drinking will also be scrutinised.

Source: The Independent & The Telegraph

Note: South African government alcohol recommendations are no more than one drink (12 grams of alcohol) per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.

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