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Sensible drinking message 'confusion'

Feb 3, 2006

Despite clear labelling on shop-bought beer and wines, the sensible drinking message is rather confused in the UK, according to researchers.

A survey of 263 supermarket shoppers has shown that despite clear information about the number of units contained in cans and bottles of alcohol, drink awareness is poor.

While most people could define what constitutes a unit of alcohol, less than a fifth of men and a quarter of women actually used the system to monitor their intake, according to two researchers from Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh who have written a letter to this week's British Medical Journal.

Only a very small proportion - just eight per cent of women and five per cent of men - were aware of the current guidelines which outline sensible daily drinking levels, which are intended to help people avoid drunkenness.

Instead the majority estimated the recommended maximum number of units each day based on older guidelines which suggest weekly levels. But a third of those surveyed offered no idea.

And while most of those surveyed said they were in favour of alcohol labelling, the researchers found that price offers were more likely to influence their buying decisions than information found on the label.

Almost half of the shoppers questioned enjoyed wine, but a fifth of them could make no estimate of how many units are in a bottle. And a third underestimated the alcoholic content at seven units or fewer, while the correct answer is closer to nine.

The authors say that evidence from other countries lends weight to the argument that labelling is ineffective as a means of improving people’s drinking habits.

They write that there may be 'considerable confusion about sensible drinking messages in the UK'.


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