Draw a veil

William Hague by Flickr user john.puddephattIn many ways the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is a very good role model, but it seems that for some students the lesson they’ve taken to heart is his self reported binge drinking, with York University Conservatives saying there will be medals for those students able to drink the full 14 pints.

The Spectator reports an interview Hague gave in 2009 in which he says:

‘I get students writing to tell me about having a Hagueathon: they are trying to drink 14 pints, or have a three-legged one where two of them drink seven pints. That is my contribution to the English language. Margaret Thatcher contributed ‘Thatcherism’, all I’ve contributed is the name of a drinking contest.’

I’m sure that Hague’s influence on student drinking culture is being over-exaggerated in these stories, and that were Hague not to have inspired this particular drinking game that others would not be played.

But it did set me thinking about whether there’s a broader point as highlighted by the research reported in the Daily Telegraph recently that suggested that adults when asked about drug use by their children should not necessarily be open about it.

Perhaps when asked about these things by the media it would be wiser, all round, for politicians and celebrities to draw a veil over their own excesses.

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Ambulance Service Incidents: Binge Drinking in London

The London DataStore is a mine of useful information and includes data on what the London Ambulance service is finding.

And while this data is really more for our colleagues who deal with adult health – and perhaps explains the focus on alcohol from the London Health Improvement Board – I thought it was worth sharing.

As you’ll see the trend they’re seeing is that binge drinking by those under 40 is leading to more calls on their services.  Of course this may be the result of changes in the accuracy of recording as much as real changes in behaviour, but it isn’t encouraging.

London binge drinking

European Alcohol Profiles

The image above is taken from the by The Prime Minister’s Office Flickr Stream and gives some context to what is to follow.

The World Health Organisation have produced alcohol profiles for countries in the region.  As you’ll see they’re focused on adult drinking, but hold some interesting data.

Looking at the UK figures the first thing that jumps out is that adults drink 13.4 litres of pure alcohol per person per year.  That’s

an additional 1.2 litres of pure alcohol per person than the average European – and as that includes Russia and other Eastern European countries I suspect the average would be considerably lower if we were to just look at Western Europe.

If I’ve done my maths right* that means that this means that every one over the age of 16 drinks 42.2 pints of larger (5% abv) more than our continental cousins over the course of a year.

There are about 49,619,840 of us over the age of 16.  So that’s 2,093,957,248 extra pints as a nation.  Or, if you’re more of a wine person that’s the equivalent of 610,324,032 extra bottles of wine.

There are also some interesting difference between men and women.  Men who drink are putting away an average of 21.58 litres of pure alcohol a head per year (or if you’d rather 999 pints of pale ale (3.8% abv)), while women drinkers are much more abstemious drinking 9.46 litres (or 860 bottles of alcopops (4% abv)) over the course of a year.

Another interesting part of the briefing is the estimated social costs of alcohol – from which they’ve excluded Northern Ireland for some reason.  They calculate the figures in US dollars and I’ve taken a conversion rate of $1 to £0.6237.

WHO say that the total social costs that we bear as a result of our alcohol consumption comes out at about $32 bn (which comes to about £20 bn).

They break this down a little so we see that about $3.5 bn (£2.2 bn) of the total comes from the health budget, and $12.2 bn (£7.6 bn) being spent in criminal justice expenditure.

The rest comes from what they call direct and indirect costs – unfortunately they don’t seem to define what those costs might be.

* 10 ml of pure alcohol = 1 unit, so 1.2 lt of pure alcohol = 120 units

I’d rather have a cup of tea…

The Press Association have a story suggesting that the number of adults who drink at home is on the decline, with those who drink on more than two days a week falling from 46% in 2006 to 41% in 2011.

They also suggest that the alcoholic content of what they drink (the ABV) isn’t that important in the choices that people are making.  Even amongst younger drinkers (18 to 24) they find that 62% say they don’t take this into account.

While this doesn’t address the age group that we’re most obviously interested in it could act as a useful nudge in getting a healthier approach to alcohol using a social norms approach.  I’ve mocked up the photo to the right as an example of how you might do that.

Unfortunately the data that is being reported isn’t freely available for scrutiny, and the £1,750 that the research company are asking for it puts it out of our price range.