THE FIRST in a series of health blog's by Sodexo's head of nutrition and dietetics, Wan Mak aims to help you brush up on some interesting statistics around alcohol consumption for the benefit of your customers.
Drinking alcohol within the recommended limits is considered relatively safe, posing little risk to health, however there is increasing concerns on the amount of alcohol we Brits actually consume.
There are numerous campaigns by the government, including the Alcohol Strategy that was published on 23 March 2012 that aims specifically at reducing the number of people that drink above healthy limits, ‘binge drinkers’ and the number of alcohol related deaths within the UK. It also looks at changing people’s behaviours by encouraging individuals to drink more responsibly.
It is estimated that alcohol may be the cause of 33,000 deaths in the UK each year and contributes to around 4% of cancer cases. One in ten deaths from liver disease, including alcoholic liver disease are from those in their 40s.
Women who drink 2 large glasses of wine a day are said to be twice as likely to develop high blood pressure and 50% more likely to have breast cancer.
Alcohol is also associated with heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, some cancers including bowel cancer.
Despite government campaigns, how many of us are actually aware of the dangers of drinking too much alcohol, know what level is too much and how this is measured?
The 2009 Omnibus survey reported that 90% of respondents (both men and women equally) were aware alcohol consumption is measured in units, but only 13-16% of these had kept a daily or a weekly check on how much they had consumed. Many were unable to say how many units were in their alcoholic drinks.
More recently (30th May 2013), the Health and Social Care Information Centre (part of the Government Statistical Service) published their annual report on the latest statistics on alcohol in England. Their findings showed that although more than 60% of men and women drank within Government guidelines, there were still 23% of men and 18% of women who exceeded this. 6% of men also indicated consumption levels of more than 50 units and 4% of women over 35 units, placing them at the higher health risk category. Those most likely to drink over the recommended amount were generally men and women between the ages of 45-64 and 45-54 respectively.
It is therefore clear that many people still do not realise how much they are drinking or should be drinking and the associated health risks. More readily accessible, easy to understand information coupled with health campaigns on this subject continues to be needed and are essential if the government intends to reduce the health risks associated with high levels of alcohol consumption.
The Change4Life alcohol campaign first launched in March 2012 via our televisions and radio, advising on the health risks of drinking too much alcohol above the recommended levels is beneficial in encouraging the UK population to keep a check on the amount we consume.
Another method is to target the alcohol industry to provide better health information to its consumers. Launched in 2011, the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal does just that! Their approach is to encourage industry members to voluntarily sign up to a pledge where they commit to ‘fostering a culture of responsible drinking’ It includes raising awareness of the unit and calorie content of alcoholic drinks, NHS drinking guidelines, the health harms associated with exceeding these guidelines, and consistent messaging. By December 2013 we may see more products on the shelves with clearer labeling on unit content, nutrition and a wider choice of lower strength products with the aim to reduce one billion units of alcohol from the market by 2015.
So what is the guideline!
The government recommends that men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol and women 2-3 units of alcohol.
They also advise after episodes of heavy drinking, individuals should refrain from drinking for 48 hours to allow the body tissues to recover.
* (Regularly is defined as every day or most days of the week)
According to the Living Costs and Food Survey, alcoholic drinks purchased for consumption at the home came to 728ml per person per week, with popular drinks being Cider, Perry, Wines and Beers.
1 unit of pure alcohol is 10ml or 8g. This is equivalent to a small measure of spirit (40% alcohol by volume), half a pint of beer, lager, cider, 50ml measure of fortified wine such as port or sherry and 50ml cream liqueur. One and a half unit equals a standard bottle of Alcopop (275ml), one 125ml glass of wine (12% ABV).
Alcohol is high in calories and can contribute to weight gain and obesity. 1 gram of alcohol provides 7kcal compared with 4kcal per gram of sugar, carbohydrates or protein. The calorie content of some alcoholic drinks with added sugar, cream or fruit juice can be significantly higher. Some people may also snack on high fat, high calorie foods when drinking alcohol including savoury snacks such as crisps, peanuts and fast food which all adds up the calories contributing to weight gain.
Alcohol can be an appetite stimulant leading to increased food consumption during mealtimes and a diuretic making the body lose more water.
Top Tips for your customers:
1. Keep a check/track of how much you’re drinking: Avoid topping up a glass before it is empty so you can measure this more accurately.
2. Follow the recommended guidelines: Consider having water or a non-alcoholic diet drink in between alcoholic drinks or mixing it in to make a refreshing alcoholic drink. This will also help prevent dehydration especially during a hot summer day! Aim to have two alcohol-free days a week.
3. Size matters: Go for a single spirit measures or a small glass of wine instead of a large or double.
4. Understand the alcoholic strengths. Try to choose those that have a lower ABV, Alcohol By Volume
5. Set yourself a limit on how much you plan to drink and keep to this.