Press release

Drinkers can underestimate alcohol habits

Some people could be underestimating their alcohol intake by as much as 40 per cent, according to new figures the Department of Health published today.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


The snapshot into the nation’s drinking habits come as this year’s Change4life TV ad campaign is launched to raise awareness of the health harms caused by regularly drinking over the guidelines.

The recent Health Survey for England highlighted underestimations in both the amount and frequency that people drink, raising major concerns about the nation’s knowledge of alcohol.

The campaign, which calls on people to check their intake using an online Drinks Checker tool, shows how simple changes can save both money and reduce calories.

Research shows across the country 80 per cent of those that drink too much acknowledge the health risks but think of themselves at most as moderate drinkers. More than 60 per cent of these drinkers have no intention of cutting down.

To get a picture of drinking habits, the Change4Life team asked 19 individuals to keep a detailed drinks diary for two weeks. The findings show those that took part were drinking on average the equivalent of an extra large glass of wine each day, or 40 per cent more that they thought.

After keeping a drinks diary for a week, people were offered simple tips on cutting down and as a result, they:

  • cut their alcohol consumption by over a third;
  • saved around £33.35 a week - or over £1,730 a year; and
  • consumed 1,658 fewer calories a week an average of 236 calories a day - around 10 per cent of the average person’s daily intake and the equivalent to 125ml (a small wine glass) of cream per day.

Participants also said that cutting down improved their physical and emotional wellbeing.  And those involved also reported that adding more mixer to drinks and substituting alcoholic drinks with soft drinks were the most popular tips to include in their lifestyle.

Other tips for cutting down included having booze-free days if they drink every day, not drinking at home before going out, swapping to low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks and simply using smaller glasses.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Dame Sally Davies said:

“I understand that people enjoy having a glass of wine or beer to unwind at the end of a busy day - but these drinks stack up and can increase your risk of high blood pressure, cancer or liver disease.

“The alcohol guidelines recommend that men should not regularly drink more than three to four units a day and women should not regularly drink more than two to three units a day.

“The Change4Life campaign aims to help and encourage people to check how much they are drinking using the Drinks Checker app or online and if they find they are drinking over the guidelines, provide helpful tips and advice to cut down.

“Cutting back your drinking can reduce your health risks, reduce your calorie intake, help you sleep better and boost your energy. To find out more I strongly recommend people to search Change4Life.”


  1. For further information, please contact the Department of Health press office on 020 7210 4990.
  2. Research methodology * 19 respondents were recruited to take a two-week project about their drinking habits in mid-November 2012 * They were recruited to the following criteria:

-     Age 35-55

-     C2DE socio-economic grade

-     Mix of male/female

-     Mix of those with/without kids

-     Daily drinkers, but not very heavy drinkers

-     Regional spread over England: North, Midlands, South, London

  • Every day, respondents responded to a questionnaire asking them to record their alcohol consumption (inc. mixers) and to rate their emotional and physical states (e.g. alertness, quality of sleep); they also had to record how much they spent on alcohol consumed on licensed premises
  • The first week was a control week; participants were asked merely to record their consumption of alcohol and rate their physical and emotional states
  • As well as recording their alcohol consumption as in the first week, in the second week respondents were asked to read tips from the Department of Health based around cutting down on alcohol

-     The tips are available on the Change4Life website.

  • Results from the two weeks were then compared to quantify the impact that the Change4Life tips had on consumption of alcohol in the following areas:

-     money spent

-     calories consumed

-     units of alcohol consumed

  • Calorie and unit consumption was calculated by a professional nutritionist (Jane Griffin BSc RD). Exact unit and caloric information was used as far as possible.
  • Money spent was calculated in two ways:

-     For drinks consumed on licensed premises (pubs, bars, etc.), respondents were asked to give the exact price paid for each drink.

-     For drinks consumed off-prem (at home etc.), respondents provided the exact brand/variant and amount they drank, and this was used to generate the cost. Owing to the range of drinks involved, and extensive variety in price based on where they were bought (e.g. supermarket vs. corner shop), drinks were split into Beers, Wines, and Spirits, then categorised from “value” to “premium”. For each category, the cost was calculated using the average of prices from,, and

  • To calculate the difference between perceived drinking and actual habits, the percentage difference was calculated for each respondent between what they claimed they drunk and what was recorded in the first week. The average of these percentages was then calculated.
  1. The advert is available from the following link:

Username: Change4Life

Password: Change4Life!

Published 7 February 2013