Did you know that the latest NHS statistics on alcohol consumption were released just before the Jubilee?
You didn’t? Well, I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make because the BBC didn’t seem to notice it either. Perhaps it’s because they were all camped out around the Mall … or that the health section’s skeleton staff would have had to report on this little “key fact”.
There has been a long-term downward trend in the proportion of adults who reported drinking in the week prior to interview. In 1998 75 per cent of men and 59 per cent of women drank in the week prior to interview compared to 68 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women in 2010.
In fact, searching the text in Google, it would seem that it was missed by all media outlets apart from those in the drinks trade.
Perhaps I was looking for something too upbeat. The Mail, for example, picked up on the statistics with this lurid headline.
Number of people being admitted to hospital because of alcohol jumps 10 per cent in a year
There is no mention whatsoever of the good news in the NHS report, but a rent-a-quote from Alcohol Concern is given ample publicity.
Sadly (for journalism) even the ‘fact’ they chose to lead on isn’t accurate, as they’d have discovered if bothering to read further down the same paragraph of the press release.
Comparisons over time in the broad measure are complicated by changes in recording practices over the period. In order to estimate the trend once changes in recording practices are accounted for, a method to adjust the national figures has been devised which is presented in Appendix G of the report. Adjusted figures show a 49 per cent increase from an estimated 783,300 in 2002/03 but a 3 per cent decrease from 1,208,100 in 2009/10.
There are more statistical flies in the ointment than that as well – with regard to an increasingly wider net being thrown around up to 20 sub-diagnoses over the past decade – but only, err, DAILY MAIL REPORTER can explain how a real terms decrease is emblazoned on its pages as a “jump” of “10 per cent in a year”.
And, as we know, such figures are also skewed since all manner of admissions not necessarily to do with alcohol are included. “For example, 46% of pedestrian traffic accidents involving women aged 25 to 44 are estimated to be attributable to alcohol.” [6.18]
“What about the children?”, I can hear you cry. Well, it’s good news there too.
13% of secondary school pupils aged 11 to 15 reported drinking alcohol in the week prior to interview in 2010 compared with 18 per cent of pupils in 2009 and 26 per cent in 2001.
And I can now update this graph (or I would if I did graphs as good as this) with yet another decrease in overall consumption (table 2.5).
Women drinking over the paltry 14 units per week decreased from 18% to 17% while men remained static at 26%, but the average weekly units fell from 16.4 to 15.9 for men and 8.0 to 7.6 for women.
In public health terms, this is cracking news, isn’t it?
Well, not if you’re trying to make a case for an urgent minimum price for alcohol it’s not, no. Best keep it all hush hush then, eh?