A new report published on May 12th by the intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): ‘Tackling Harmful Alcohol Use: Economics and Public Health Policy’ found that the UK was the 11th heaviest-drinking country out of the 40 examined. Levels of alcohol consumption in the United Kingdom are above the OECD average and increased during the last 30 years.
On average, each person in the UK consumes 10.6 litres of pure alcohol a year, compared with 9.5 litres across the OECD’s 34 member countries. Furthermore initiation into alcohol drinking happens at increasingly early ages. In the United Kingdom, the proportion of 15 year olds who have experienced alcohol increased from 71% in 2002 to 75% in 2010.
Dangerous drinking among better-educated women has contributed to the UK increase in alcohol consumption over the last 30, bucking a downward trend in other industrialised countries. One in five woman graduates regularly drink ‘hazardously’ (defined as a weekly consumption of 21 units or more for men, or 14 or more for women) compared with one in ten for those with lower levels of education. Better-educated British men are also more likely to drink a hazardous amount than their less-educated counterparts, yet the difference is particularly pronounced for women.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report in Paris stated: “This report provides clear evidence that even expensive alcohol abuse prevention policies are cost-effective in the long run and underlines the need for urgent action by governments.”
Compared with other countries in the OECD area, the United Kingdom has relatively high levels of taxation for all types of alcoholic beverages. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit for drivers is 0.08%, the highest in OECD countries, although Scotland lowered the limit to 0.05% in 2014 (as in the majority of OECD countries). The countries of the United Kingdom have adopted a wide-range of policies to regulate on- and off-premise sales of alcoholic beverages and promotion of alcohol products, but other legally binding regulations (e.g. on sponsorships, sales promotions and health warnings on alcohol containers) are not yet applied at the national level.
Watch video Alcohol: tackling the heavy cost of harmful drinking for a summary of the report's findings.