Australia’s National Alcohol Guidelines “ignored”, survey finds

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 7th March 2012

New research by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research (CAPR) shows that 95 per cent of Australians are unable to correctly identify safe drinking levels.

The research has been released ahead of a meeting of health experts in Melbourne today which will explore the role of the National Health and Medical Research Council’s (NHMRC) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.

The study, ‘Perception of low-risk drinking levels among Australians during a period of change in the official drinking guidelines’, found fewer than five per cent of people were able to correctly identify safe drinking levels to avoid short and long-term harms, and between 30 and 50 per cent of respondents couldn’t even provide estimates.

Using data from the 2007 and 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), which surveyed over 26,000 people from across Australia, CAPR researcher Michael Livingston found that misconceptions are particularly pronounced among young people.

Mr Livingston said, “Young people are significantly overestimating the number of standard drinks to consume per occasion to reduce the risk of short term harms, with young men aged 14-19 years estimating 8.8 drinks while their female counterparts estimated 6.5 drinks. The 2009 Guidelines recommend no more than four standard drinks.”

The research also found the change in the guidelines had a small effect on men’s perception on what constitutes low risk drinking to avoid long-term harm. About five per cent more men selected 1-2 drinks as being the amount they could consume in any one day, compared to 2007.

“While this slight change in perceptions is positive, this study clearly shows that the Guidelines haven’t changed broader perceptions. Given the time, effort, and cost expended developing the Guidelines, and the potential to reduce alcohol harms when properly promoted, these findings are extremely disappointing,” Mr Livingston said.

Those sentiments are shared by Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Chief Executive, Michael Thorn.

“Three years since the introduction of the revised Guidelines we still have young men believing it’s okay to have nine drinks in one sitting. Clearly, you can’t expect to change behaviours if you don’t first educate and inform. People aren’t going to make healthier choices if they aren’t even aware what those safe choices are,” Mr Thorn said.