Risky drinking is most common among older and high-income groups, according to figures from the new Health Survey England report.
22% of men and 16% of women drank above low risk levels in 2014 – this includes 17% of men and 12% of women who drank at increasing risk levels, and 5% of men and 4% of women who drank at higher risk levels, defined as more than 50 units a week for men, more than 35 units for women).
Headline figures showed falls in the proportions of people identified as high-risk drinkers relative to the population, but masked upward changes in drinking proportions among particular cohorts, most notably for income and age.
For instance, current government guidelines advise that daily drinking should not regularly exceed 4 units for men and 3 units for women, and the proportion of men that drank at least double this amount on one day in the previous week dropped 5 percentage points between 2006 and 2014 (24% in 2006; 19% in 2014), as it did for women also (16% in 2006; 11% in 2014).
But the proportions of men who drank above 21 units and women who drank above 14 units a week varied from 27% of men and 23% of women in the fifth of households with the highest incomes to 17% of men and 10% of women in the lowest. Inversely, the percentages of those who had not drunk alcohol in the last year were highest in lower income households (27% of men and 30% of women in the lowest income quintile, decreasing to 5% of men and 12% of women in the highest income quintile).
The consumption habits of older drinkers – especially those aged between 55 and 74 years of age – stood out among all age cohorts. The age groups with the highest proportions of adults who drank above lower risk levels were men aged 65-74 (30%) and women aged 55-64 (22%). The proportions of those who drank alcohol on five or more days in the last week was also highest among similar age groups for both sexes (29% men aged 65-74; 14% women aged 55-74).
The trend tables accompanying the report indicate a gradual increase in consumption levels among these age groups. Men aged 65-74 have bucked the downtrend trend in those drinking above recommended guidelines, and on average drank roughly a third more in alcohol units on the maximum consumption day in the last week in 2014, compared with 2011 (20.4 mean units, up from 15.7). Mean alcohol units for women aged 55-64 increased from 9.1 to 10.6 over the same period.
Health Survey for England 2014 is published today by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC). A survey of 10,000 adults and children, the report looks at a wide range of health behaviours and health related areas. In addition to alcohol consumption, they also provide information on trends within core topics such as adult obesity and social care.