The UK dramatically changes guidelines for alcohol intake

Having a drink in Leeds. [?? Kim S/Flickr]

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMO) on Friday (8 January) changed the guidelines for alcohol consumption, advising now both men and women not to drink more than 14 units per week, or three units on one occasion, in order to limit alcohol harm.

Previously, men were advised not to drink more than 21 units per week. 

The health advisors want to update the guidelines for alcohol consumption as the risk of developing a range of illnesses, including mouth, throat and breast cancer, increases with the consumption on a regular basis. 

They said that for those who drink 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over three days or more and cutting down on alcohol works best, if the individual keeps drinks-free days each week.

>>Read: Council pushes for EU alcohol strategy by end of 2016

“If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and from accidents and injuries,” they said in a statement.

The CMO’s guidelines on pregnancy and drinking are also changing. Now pregnant women are advised not to drink any alcohol at all.

“If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum,” the UK medical advisors said.

Earlier in 2015, the European Commission was criticised by health campaigners in Brussels for not doing enough work to prevent alcohol-related harm in the EU such as drink-driving, by not publishing a new Alcohol Strategy for the coming years after the first one expired in 2012. 

However in December, the EU’s 28 health ministers urged the Commission to adopt a comprehensive EU-wide strategy by the end of 2016.

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

However, the strategy did 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 European Commission believes.

  • 1 April: Deadline for an open consultation of the guidelines.
  • End 2016: The Commission to publish an EU strategy to tackle alcohol-related harm.


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