Read a copy of the policy online at the RGS website.

Alcohol consumption in the UK: Geographical views offer new perspective on the future of alcohol policy

Geography academic Dr Michael Leyshon has contributed to the latest in a series of RGS research reviews titled 'Consumption controversies: alcohol policies in the UK'. The review seeks to sort the fact from the fiction on important issues affecting society in the UK: Does the UK have a drinking problem? Is it safer to drink at home? Can the role of the local British pub be balanced alongside concerns for public health?

These questions and more were explored at the document’s formal launch in the House of Commons on Wednesday 8th December 2010.

Dr Nicola Shelton from the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL) is an expert in the geographical variations of alcohol trends and believes the misconceptions of binge drinking are shielding some groups not traditionally seen as ‘at risk’. "With all the images in the media of intoxicated young people pouring out of clubs and onto the streets late at night it would be easy to assume that the problem was limited to this group, but it's not. In some regions, it is the middle-aged population that are responsible for as much binge drinking as younger people, and they are probably quite unaware that the term 'binge drinker' refers to them," she said. In surveys of drinking behaviour, very few people recognize their own habits as 'harmful'. "We need to address attitudes as much as policy.”

Professor Marion Roberts from the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Westminster is concerned spending cuts in local authorities, and particularly in policing, will exacerbate the problems already faced by towns and cities as they try to expand their night-time economies and support public health and law and order. “There is a contradiction at the heart of government policy. They want economic expansion and high-yield properties on the 'high street' but they want local controls and low-cost policing too”, she said. “While many of the proposed amendments published last week to the Licensing Act 2003 are to be welcomed, Government should now return to one of the original objectives of licensing reform, which was to create a more positive and inclusive night-time city.”

One of the biggest changes in drinking culture has taken place in the home with more than 1.8 million people now drinking there today compared to 2004. A team of Joseph Rowntree Foundation-funded researchers, who contributed expertise to the publication, found that while most parents agree with official guidance that children should not try alcohol until they are at least 15 years old, the everyday drinking behaviour of adults at home is confusing the health and behavioural messages and actually encouraging children to try alcohol. Professor Gill Valentine from the University of Leeds and Dr Mark Jayne from the University of Manchester spoke at the event:

 “Our work found that children muddled the health risks of drinking and smoking. Whilst they were aware that alcohol is an adult product and of some of the social risks of drinking, they did not recognise the potential health implications of alcohol consumption or the impact their future drinking habits and/or drunkenness might have on society and those close to them.”

Read the policy and find out more about the launch event on the RGS website.

Date: 19 January 2011

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