Alcohol consumption statistics published by Public Health England show that a quarter of adults drank over the current low-risk guideline of 14 units per week in 2011–14.
The statistics also highlighted stark regional variations in consumption, with 1 in 3 people in the North East drinking over the low-risk guideline. In addition, the figures show enough alcohol was sold in England for every drinker to consume 19.3 units each per week, with 65% of all alcohol being sold in the off-trade.
The figures supplement the annual Local Alcohol Profiles for England (LAPE), last published in February 2017. The additional datasets provide geographical data on off-sales, licensed premises and adult drinking.
Key findings include:
- 25.7% of adults in England regularly drank over 14 units per week in 2011–2014.
- 15.5% of adults in England abstained from drinking alcohol in 2011–2014.
- 16.5% of adults in England were binge drinking on their heaviest day from 2011–2014.
- 10.6 units of alcohol per adult per week were sold through the off-trade in England in 2014.
- Wine sales made the largest contribution to total off-trade alcohol sales per adult throughout England (39%) in 2014.
- There were 1.3 licensed premises per km² in England in 2015/16.
- Regional and deprivation decile differences were observed within the majority of new indicators, highlighting inequality gaps and potential disproportionate levels of harm throughout the population.
Significant regional variation exists across the measures, with the North East highest for many of the indicators where 30.3% of adults regularly drink above the weekly guideline of 14 units. In contrast, London ranks lowest for many of the indicators, largely driven by 24.3% of adults abstaining – a figure 10% higher than the national average. Variation by deprivation is also significant, with the least deprived group drinking 4% more than the most deprived, as recognised in the alcohol harm paradox.
Nationally, 236 million litres of pure alcohol were sold through the off-trade in England in 2014, equating to 10.6 units per adult each week. Consumption is of course skewed, with those drinking above the guidelines consuming as much as 69% of all alcohol sold. Wine accounted for the largest volume of off-trade sales per head at 39%, followed by 27% for beer.
Binge drinking, still classified as drinking more than 6 units on an occasion for women or more than 8 units for men, also varied significantly, with a national average of 16.5% having ‘binged’ on their heaviest drinking day for the previous week. Interestingly, no correlation between binge drinking and deprivation was seen, although the value of looking at ‘snapshots’ like heaviest drinking day for assessing consumption has been questioned.
Responding to the findings, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance (UK), said:
“We are very concerned by the high numbers of people drinking at these levels. Drinking above the UK’s chief medical officers’ guideline of 14 units (for both men and women) places you at increased risk of illnesses like cancer, heart disease and liver disease.
“The fact that two-thirds of alcohol is being sold in the off-trade also means that people are able to drink at these levels very cheaply. Now is the time for the government to increase duty on the cheapest alcohol products which are disproportionately responsible for harm.
“It is also essential that the risks associated with drinking above low-risk levels are communicated to the public, so that the public are empowered to make informed choices about their consumptions. We need mandatory labelling of alcohol products, and mass media campaigns informing consumers of the health harms of drinking.”
What about national trends?
Whilst the LAPE profiles are intended to support areas identify local authority level data to inform needs assessment and planning, policy debates typically focus on national consumption. The most recent HSE data again identified a clear trend of falling consumption amongst young people, but with middle to older age adults at risk of rising consumption and harms. Recent data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) shows whilst hazardous drinking has fallen, harmful and dependent drinking has remained stable. Last year MESAS data has indicated an end to the downward trend in national consumption, although predictions for the future of consumption and harms is indeed a complex business.