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Women students confused about safe drinking levels



Levels of alcohol consumption in the UK are a cause for concern. The increase in binge drinking by young women in recent years is particularly worrying. The average alcohol consumption of young women in Scotland almost doubled over a recent four-year period,1 while deaths caused by alcoholic liver disease in women quadrupled between 1980 and 2003.2

A recent study recruited 180 women who were first year students at a Scottish university. Of these 15 (8.3%) were non-drinkers.

Participants were invited to complete a 12-item questionnaire relating to a number of alcohol-related subjects. These included experience of school-based health education, recall of UK recommended daily limits, awareness of the alcohol content of their favourite drink and the definition of binge drinking.

The study demonstrated that one quarter of students participating in the study either had never received or could not remember receiving school-based health education relating to alcohol use.

Only 4% of drinking participants were able to give the correct safe limit for men and 2% for women.

More than half of the drinkers gave no estimate of the alcohol content of their favoured drink when asked, and a further 13% seriously underestimated the unit content.

Participants' concepts of what represented binge drinking ranged from 3 to 56 units per session.

A major cornerstone of recent UK alcohol policy has been the Sensible Drinking message, which recommends daily safe consumption limits for both men and women. The evidence presented by the study, and by increases in overall alcohol consumption in the UK, calls into question the effectiveness of this public health policy.

The study shows a startling lack of awareness in a group of young people of sensible drinking limits, the alcohol content of their favourite drink and what constitutes a binge.

GPs and primary care teams are well placed to offer opportunistic sensible drinking advice to young people, and should bear in mind this general lack of background knowledge when providing such information.

Gill J, O'May F. How ‘sensible' is the UK Sensible Drinking message? Preliminary findings amongst newly matriculated female university students in Scotland. J Public Health 2007;29:13–16

reviewerreviewer Reviewer

Dr Jez Thompson
Former GP, Clinical Director, Leeds Community Drug Services

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