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We should probably call bullshit here

The proportion of adults drinking at risky levels also increased from 25.6 per cent to 32.9 per cent during the pandemic. Among over-65s, those drinking at risky levels increased from 15.6 per cent to 21.6 per cent.

Those aged 25 to 34 increased their drinking the most on average, the study found, but older groups were consuming more alcohol before the pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, over-65s who were risky drinkers consumed an average 13.93 units per week compared with 9.78 for 25 to 34-year-olds.

During lockdown, those figures rose to 13.96 for over-65s and 10.89 for 25-34s – an 11 per cent increase for the younger group.

They’re then predicting 25l extra deaths. But this level of drinking is protective from all cause mortality. It’s only up around 40 units a week that it becomes, in itself, dangerous.

So, bullshit.

18 thoughts on “We should probably call bullshit here”

  1. Thanks Tim. I’m glad that taking my niece and her partner to the pub each night of their visit won’t hurt them.

    Or me of course!!!

  2. “Pre-pandemic, over-65s who were risky drinkers consumed an average 13.93 units per week…”

    14.0 units/week is considered risky?

  3. Plainly they do not have a pile of corpses to show us, unless folk can be killed by shocked disapproval.

  4. @BernieG: No, it’s just atrocious journalism. “High Risk” is 50+ units/week (men) or 35+ units/week (women); “Low Risk” is under 14 units/week; “Increasing Risk” is anything in between.

    These definitions are stated in the article, but they nonetheless use undefined terms like ‘risky drinkers’ (everyone?) and ‘risky levels’ (High Risk?).

  5. If 40 units pw is the point where mortality equals that of non-drinkers, if people at the bottom of the J curve start drinking more and move towards it, one would expect to see more deaths in that cohort. Of course, if people who are drinking less than the trough of the curve drink a bit more, the mortality in that cohort would decrease which might offset the increase. I’d expect that more non-drinkers stay non-drinkers though, as their reason of religion, morality or just not enjoying booze are likely to be sticky, so there may not be enough move from there to offset. However, I wouldn’t expect the temperance zealots public health campaigners to have models sufficiently sophisticated to capture that. just as I wouldn’t expect them to note that people at the foot of the trough starting to drink less would also increase mortality and lead to more deaths…

  6. May I take it that no useful randomised controlled trial of drinking has ever been performed? That is, may I take it that all the data are observational, bringing in their train a million potential confounders?

    If I take the observational data at face value, may I (or must I) do the same for all comparable observational data e.g. those on diet? Or is diet different because there have been a few RCTs?

    Anyway my questions don’t matter: the prohibitionist zealots give not a hoot for honest argument anyway. “Safe” level, my arse. Figures plucked from thin air.

  7. This increase in alcohol consumption would surely be enough to be reflected in overall sales. Is it? If so, buy Diageo.

  8. this level of drinking is protective from all cause mortality. It’s only up around 40 units a week that it becomes, in itself, dangerous.

    Source for this? From a quick Google, this paper suggests that all-cause mortality increases above 14 “drinks” per week, which seems to be about 25 units.

    Also binge drinking. Outrageously, they define this as 5 “drinks” in one go, which if I’ve done my sums right is about 3 pints of Stella! Doing that once a week is associated with higher all-cause mortality, they say.

    If that’s the case then even if up to 40 units a week is cool, and even if the real harmful “binge” threshold is a bit higher than this paper’s silliness, it’s hard to imagine that there are all that many people getting through the high 30s of units each week without at least one binge.

    Either way, with my habits I’m probably screwed. Oh well. I’ll just console myself with the thought that’s it’s self-reported consumption data, so everyone was probably having at least double what they claimed.

  9. @philip

    This increase in alcohol consumption would surely be enough to be reflected in overall sales. Is it? If so, buy Diageo

    Volumes of liquid sold went up during the pandemic but their £sales and profits dropped because on-sales are far more profitable for them than off-sales.

    Tim’s extract doesn’t take about what’s happened post-lockdown (and buggered if I’m subscribing to the Telegraph!) but even if drinking amounts have been maintained* then, all else being equal (they’re capitalists, after all, so won’t have taken this sitting down), this would probably only help the Diageos etc if people were continuing to drink as much but doing it in the pub instead of at home.

    * – that’s another question about the 25k deaths estimate: does it account for the increase in consumption probably only being temporary for most people or does it assume they keep up the good work?

  10. Source for this?

    For the avoidance of doubt, it’s to show my wife next time I’m getting grief about my drinking!

  11. The thing that always strikes me about these kinds of studies is that, the way that they are worded always suggests that if we just stopped indulging in naughty behaviour like drinking, smoking, unhealthy eating and not doing the recommended amount of exercise, that we would quite literally be immortal. Nowadays it seems that, even if you live to be a hundred and ten, when you die you were obviously murdered by your inability to abstain from some terribly unhealthy indulgence.

  12. Who could resist the suggestion that by skipping a couple of beers a week they might be rewarded with an extra fortnight in the Care Home?

  13. ISTR reading a study done some years ago by the University Hospital of Chicago on “heavy drinkers” (ie winos). It appeared to conclude that consumption for a man had to be north of 100 units per week before any actual physical damage or symptoms thereof could be observed…

    Re: the ludicrous definition of “binge drinking” – that’s the problem with letting the zealots set the rules. As any fule kno proper binge drinking is the swift consumption of a couple-of-dozen brightly-coloured concoctions followed by being later found sitting on a pavement in a pool of your own vomit and urine. It’s certainly not having two or three pints of wifebeater in one session!

  14. @ dearieme
    Well said!
    I remember that sometime during an earlier decade of the anti-smoking witch-hunt it was revealed that the Chinese government’s tobacco monopoly was by far the world’s largest seller of cigarettes, because the prospect of a premature death worried the Chinese far less than Americans, Europeans, Australians etc.

  15. A great deal of this ‘public health’ lunacy is based on the principle that since, if I drop a bowling ball onto someone’s head from 6′ it will very likely kill them, clearly dropping a pingpong ball onto someone’s head from 6″ stands a one in a million chance of killing them. And then ignoring the fact that hail storms don’t usually cause mass fatalities. See radiation safety levels for a good example of such ‘thinking’.

  16. @ Bloke on the A720
    The phrase “one over the eight” described someone who had drunk four-and-a-half pints of beer in one session and had become intoxicated as a result. One session, not one day.
    They want 3 pints in one day to be called “binge drinking” – this eliminates any useful conclusions from their survey since it does not separate out real binge drinking from being thirsty. A rugby forward can easily down three pints after a match withouteven *starting* a binge.
    Another idiocy is to use BMI (a dimensionally unsound concept) instead of body mass to compare with alcohol consumption: previous *good quality* research has established that body mass is correlated with the ability to consume alcohol without harm and that the amount of muscle even more so (hence men having more capacity for alcohol than women).
    This so-called research should – despite producing the (already known) correct answer that complete abstention is correlated with higher mortality [but not explaining why] – be filed in the round filing cabinet beside your desk.

  17. John,

    As a former rugby forward (with both the body mass and BMI that suggests … though alas nowhere near the muscle mass!), I of course also find the use of the term “binge drinking” to describe three pints in one go utterly offensive.

    The question is what evidence there is as to the health impacts of certain habits, whatever the researchers or anyone else choose to call them? As I say, I’m just intrigued to see the evidence that all-cause mortality decreases up to 40 units per week. I would dearly, dearly love it to be true as I probably average 30 to 40 and I know Mr W would never make such a claim without having robust evidence to point to … would he …!

    Where did the BMI reference come up, btw? Was it in the Telegraph article or the one I linked to (couldn’t see it)? I’ve never really seen anything saying you can get away with more if your BMI is higher.

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