Alcohol guidelines 'unlikely to cut drinking directly', concedes author


The UK's new drinking guidelines are "unlikely to cut drinking directly", an expert has said.

But the new guidance has raised awareness of drinking harms so may "shift public discourse on alcohol and the policies that can reduce our consumption," Professor Theresa Marteau argued.

Prof Marteau, director of the behaviour and health research unit at the University of Cambridge, and a member of the committee that produced the guidelines, said that there is little evidence for any effect of health-related guidelines on behaviour.

She added that few people oppose attempts to provide the public with information about health risks, but public support "ebbs away as interventions become more intrusive".

But she argued that "novel information" on risk can change behaviour - saying that smoking rates fell overnight following the research linking smoking with adverse health outcomes in 1962.

"The new UK alcohol guidelines present novel information on the link between alcohol and cancer," she said.

In an observation published in the BMJ, she added that following the publication of the guidance, Google Trends showed more searches for "alcohol and cancer" compared with the same week the previous year.

The guidance, issued last month, said no level of regular drinking is without risk to health and presented a link between regular drinking and cancer - recommending that men and women should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week.

"The new alcohol guidelines are unlikely to cut drinking directly," she wrote.

"But they may shift public discourse on alcohol and the policies that can reduce our consumption.

"As the debate around the guidelines continues, with references to the nanny state and the killing of joy, we should keep in focus the objective of alcohol policies: to reduce the blight without losing the delight that alcohol brings."