Are we really in control of our drinking?

First published at Daily Mail, Right Minds

We like to think that we are in control of our lives and as we declaim our autonomy it’s convenient to ignore all the different social, environmental and historical influences on us and our choices, not to mention our dependency tendencies!

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee have published their report today on Alcohol Guidelines, which reviewed the attempt to influence our drinking through the current advice given by government on safe limits. Notably they say, “We have heard sufficient concerns from experts to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence on alcohol and health risks is due.”

It also reiterates points that was made in 2020health’s report, From one to many (October 2011) that people don’t realise how much they are drinking, that we don’t understand what a unit is or how many units there are in a bottle of wine or beer and there is a need for more education, especially as guidelines are too generalised. We all respond differently to alcohol and 14 units a week may be all right for a 55 year old 5’10” woman weighing 10 1/2 stone but not for a 21 year old of 5’1″ and 7 stone.

The Commons report is only looking at the unit guidelines, which is important, but it makes me wonder if the Behavioural Change Unit at the heart of government are also doing their bit? Because if we really are going to stem the flow of millions of pounds haemorrhaging out of the economy due to alcohol misuse, we need to take a serious look at the other influences on us. Our GP, our family, our friends, our work are the obvious ones, but what about advertising by the alcohol industry?

More than any other country in Europe we are bombarded with alcohol advertising as we have no laws to restrict their assault. Whether it’s the football league, ordering from Amazon, watching TV or going to the cinema we cannot avoid it and are subjected to attempts to brainwash us into thinking that alcohol is a pre-requisite to having a good time (are we that boring when sober?), it’s refreshing (it dehydrates), it makes you more sexy (really?!) or that you need more! Young people of course are especially vulnerable to these messages. Going to the pub with friends is fun and part of our culture, but if we are going to regain control over our drinking, then an important step towards this is out-lawing the propaganda.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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