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an Economist Intelligence Unit business healthcare

A sober analysis of alcohol and health in the media

October 25th 2011

Our latest NHS Choices report has been published. The report What’s your poison? A sober analysis of alcohol and health in the media looks at the effects of alcohol consumption and examines the 75 studies on alcohol that have been reported in Behind the Headlines.

90% of adults in England, and 75% in Northern Ireland are reported to drink alcohol. Although, on average, recent surveys suggest that weekly consumption is below the recommended limits, 20% of men and 30% of women report “binge” drinking (consuming more than twice the recommended daily limit in one day).

The report provides in-depth information about the wide range of alcohol-related topics that were reported in the media, including cardiovascular health (23% of stories), pregnancy (15%) and cancer (12%). These stories were often based on individual studies which can have conflicting results and may cause confusion for the public. There was more reporting of headline grabbing claims about the potential benefits of red wine than, say, the proven harmful effect of heavy drinking on the liver.

So what are the bottom lines when it comes to the evidence on booze? Well, we’d put it like this:

  1. Too much is bad (very bad).
  2. Can you justify drinking because it’s good for you? Nope.
  3. Can you justify a sherry because it’s Christmas? Well, we’ll be having one!