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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 13:28 GMT
Men 'drink far more than women'
Image of a man drinking
Men still drink more than women

Men are drinking twice as much alcohol as women, figures for 2006 suggest.

Data from the Office for National Statistics suggest men drink an average of 18.7 units a week, compared with 9.0 units for women.

Some 21% of men and 11% of women had drunk on at least five of the seven days before the survey of about 16,500 households was carried out.

Alcohol consumption in 2006 was higher in England (13.7 units a week), than in Wales (13.5) and Scotland (11.6).

Over the last 20 years middle class families particularly have moved alcohol from the fringe of their lives to the centre of it
Frank Soodeen
Alcohol Concern

The figures also suggest that alcohol consumption is higher among the middle classes.

Men and women in "managerial and professional" households drank an average of 15.1 units a week.

In households classified as "routine and manual" the average consumption was 11.6 units a week.

Among men in households with a gross weekly income of over 1,000, 83% had had a drink in the previous week, and 51% had drunk more than four units on at least one day.

HOW MANY UNITS IS MY DRINK?
Graphic icons of different alcoholic drinks

But among men in households with an income of 200 or less, only 61% had had a drink and only 32% had drunk more than four units on any one day.

The same pattern was found in women. Among those in large employer/managerial households 19% had drunk heavily on at least one day in the previous week, compared with 11% from "routine" households.

More than 50% of people said they drank at home, rather than in the pub.

Possible decline

The figures - the first to use a new method of assessing intake - suggest that overall alcohol consumption may be in decline.

The researchers warn that it is not possible to make direct comparisons between data assessed under the old and new methods.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Most of the people I know drink for the social aspect
Cara Ware

Methods for calculating alcohol consumption have been updated to reflect the trend towards larger measures and stronger alcoholic drinks, especially wine.

But sticking with the old method, which almost certainly underestimates true alcohol consumption, the proportion of men drinking more than the recommended limit of 21 units a week on average fell from 29% in 2000 to 23% in 2006.

For women, the proportion drinking more than the recommended limit of 14 units a week fell from 17% in 2000 to 12% in 2006.

Frank Soodeen, of the charity Alcohol Concern, said: "Over the last 20 years middle class families particularly have moved alcohol from the fringe of their lives to the centre of it.

"Because it so available they are drinking almost on a daily basis."

Mr Soodeen said new measures were needed to ensure people could keep tabs on what they were actually drinking.

"While we've had some progress this year when it comes to the issue of bottles now obliged to carry a unit count, we need to go further, with drinks menus in bars carrying the same sort of data.

"Customers have a right to make decisions on the basis of accurate information."

Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said the figures suggested that excessive consumption was falling.

He said: "It is also clear that the vast majority of people drink sensibly and should not be punished for the behaviour of a small minority.

"It is further evidence that calls for increased taxation on alcoholic drinks are misdirected."

Smoking

The figures also show the overall prevalence of cigarette smoking among the adult population fell to 22% in 2006 - its lowest recorded level.

Male smokers smoked an average of 15 cigarettes a day in 2006, compared with an average of 13 for female smokers.

Just over two thirds (68%) of cigarette smokers said that they wanted to give up - but 59% said it would be difficult to go without smoking for a whole day.

In 2006, 16% of smokers had their first cigarette within five minutes of waking up.

The ONS report on smoking and drinking is based on data from its 2006 General Household Survey of around 16,500 households across Britain.

SEE ALSO
'I just couldn't stop drinking'
22 Jan 08 |  Health

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