Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Wednesday, 26 August 2009 00:01 UK

People drinking more 'by stealth'

Red wine
The alcohol-content of wine has increased

People are drinking more alcohol by "stealth" because of the stronger drinks on the market, an analysis of consumption in the UK suggests.

The amount of alcohol consumed per person has risen by 10% since 2000 - despite drink sales remaining steady.

Researchers Mintel said wines and lagers were becoming stronger and people were unaware of the changes.

It comes as latest figures show a third of men and a fifth of women drink more than the recommended daily limits.

The NHS recommends a limit of three to four units of alcohol per day for men, and two to three units for women.

Consumers have limited information to help them make healthy choices about their alcohol consumption
Don Shenker, of Alcohol Concern

Mintel carried out its own surveys as well as using data from a range of sources including the NHS and sales information from shops, bars and pubs to compile its report.

Binge drinking among the young is often blamed for growing alcohol consumption, but the Mintel research showed those drinking at home were the group which saw the greatest rise.

Moreover, in a sign that binge drinking may be becoming less socially acceptable, 22% fewer 18-24-year-olds agreed with the statement, "the point of drinking is to get drunk" than did five years ago, the report added.

In total, drink sales have hardly changed since 2000, but the amount of pure alcohol consumed has risen by nearly a tenth from 8.4 litres per year per person to 9.2 litres.

The report said the changes were likely to be down to the stronger drinks that were on sale. The alcohol content of wine is now normally around 13%, while in the past it would have been closer to 11%.

Premium 5% lagers were also becoming more popular.

Jonny Forsyth, a senior drinks analyst at Mintel, added: "It may be that the majority of consumers are not aware of ABV (alcohol by volume).

"So despite a greater societal concern with being healthy leading to a decline in drinking penetration, by stealth we are drinking more pure alcohol than ever."

Labelling

The government has attempted to encourage greater awareness of the alcohol content of drinks throught the Know Your Limits advertising campaign.

Manufacturers have also been encouraged to provide labelling on drinks.

But Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "Consumers have limited information to help them make healthy choices about their alcohol consumption.

"There is often no information about units and even rarer information about sensible drinking levels on the labels of alcohol products.

"The increasing strength of wines and beers means we are often drinking at harmful levels without realising it."

He also said there should be more lower-strength drinks on the market for people to "enjoy without harming their health".

"With alcohol consumption being linked to more than 40 different diseases or conditions surely the drinks industry has a responsibility to provide clear information and a greater choice of lower strength beers, wines and ciders which people can enjoy without harming their health."



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