Report: ‘Drunkorexia’ among young people raises concerns in the UK

British young people prefer to eat less in order to “save” calories for alcohol consumption. [James Palinsad / Flickr]

A new report has found that 43% of British men and 35% of women between the ages of 18-24 ditch meals in favour of binge drinking, a phenomenon known as “drunkorexia”.

Healthcare group Benenden’s National Health Report 2015 revealed that “drunkorexia” was gaining ground among young people in the UK and creating huge concerns among health experts.

Researchers call “Drunkorexia” a new phenomenon of limiting calorie intake from food to make room for alcoholic drinks.

According to the study, young British people prefer to eat less in order to “save” calories for alcohol consumption.

Two out of five British people (41%) between the ages of 18 and 24 said they eat healthily only to look good, but aren’t concerned about their overall health.

“Pressure to be slim, an awareness of exercising calorie control, and peer pressure to drink large amounts of alcohol are all factors in this phenomenon”, the report noted, adding that a growing number of men are following this trend.

Alcohol versus healthy diet

“Even with the spending of many millions of pounds by the NHS and public health organisations it seems that basic information about diet and wellbeing is not getting through to the public, and despite drinking less, many young people are seemingly favouring alcohol consumption over a healthy, balanced diet,” said Dr. John Giles, medical director at Benenden.

A survey recently conducted by the Health and Social Care Information Center in the UK found that young people in Britain drink markedly less alcohol than in previous years, but still more than the European average.

Door open for health NGOs to rejoin EU alcohol forum

The European Commission is exploring ways to bring back health organisations to its alcohol policy forum, in light of recent reports suggesting a decrease in underage drinking across Europe.

According to the survey, the proportion of young teenagers who have ever had an alcoholic drink has been in steady decline since 2003.

The survey found that 38% of 11 to 15-year-olds in England consumed alcohol in 2014, down from 61% in 2003. There was a similar drop among Scottish teenagers.

Not aware of balanced diet

Participants in the survey were also asked general questions about healthy lifestyles.

“By and large, the findings highlight that the public is in denial about how much they think they know about healthy eating, they claim to be near-experts, but when drilling down to real-life examples, the vast majority of respondents failed to choose the right answer to simple diet-related questions, or the healthier option when offered the choice between everyday food and drinks,” the report found.

The report noted that although half of the UK population takes into account back-of-pack health labelling on food and drinks, most people know little about nutrition.

“When tested about what the recommended daily limits or reference intakes (RIs) actually are, these same people could not reliably say what the daily limits are for simple food groups such as fat, sugar, and salt,” the report reads.

Giles said it is unclear whether the trend stems from poor education or lack of interest.

“But I think we need to rethink how we try and engage with individuals and try and encourage them to assume greater personal responsibility and accountability for their health,” he said.

Launched in 2006, the EU’s Alcohol Strategy is designed to help national governments and other stakeholders coordinate their actions to reduce alcohol abuse.

However, the strategy does not impose specific legislation on member states at this stage, relying instead on policy coordination and exchanges of best practices between countries.

To do this, the strategy introduced an alcohol and health forum, launched in 2007, where member organisations - public and private - are invited to debate, compare approaches and take action to tackle alcohol-related harm.

Harmful and hazardous alcohol consumption has a major impact on public health and also generates costs related to healthcare, health insurance, law enforcement and public order, and workplaces.

Harmful alcohol consumption also has a negative impact on labour and productivity, something the EU wants to address by promoting workplace-based initiatives.

Stakeholders such as business organisations and trade unions have a particular responsibility in this regard, the Commission believes.

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