Unitsh shmunitsh

Just say no! is the latest advice from MPs, at least for two days a week. I mean abstaining from alcohol consumption, not churnalism related to official health guidelines.

For the past few days I’ve been mulling over a report from the UK’s parliamentary Science and Technology Committee which raises concerns over the government’s advice on sensible drinking. Entirely legitimate concerns held by MPs from across the political spectrum who, to their credit, favour evidence-based policymaking over cheap political sensationalism. However, there is a discontinuity between the committee’s work and how this is reported in the news media.

Today the embargo was lifted on the report titled “Alcohol guidelines”, and it is interesting to see how my colleagues in the media have approached the story. Some appear to have got no further than the first quote in the committee’s press release, in which chairman Andrew Miller refers to the public’s relative lack of conceptual understanding of alcohol units, and recommends that people should take at least two drink-free days a week. That is sensible advice which could easily be extended to other habitually consumed substances.

Such common sense advice is all very well, but the media have largely failed to pick up on the two central theses of the report: (1) that there is no expert consensus on the health benefits and risks associated with alcohol, which makes a mockery of the very idea of universal guidelines; and (2) there is a conflict of interest between sensible drinking messages issued by government and the business model of the drinks industry.

The full report is less than 50 pages, and is worth reading in full.