Independent on Sunday (London)
Drunk and disorderly: Women in UK are worst binge drinkers in world
By Roger Dobson, Sophie Goodchild and Marie Woolf
Published: 22 October 2006
Women in England and Ireland are officially the world's biggest binge
drinkers, according to a unique study of global alcohol consumption. One in
three 17- to 30-year-olds is now classed as a heavy drinker, bingeing on
four or more drinks in one session at least once a fortnight.
These disturbing figures are 11 times higher than those of Germany and
Italy, prompting warnings that record numbers of women face liver damage and
premature death unless they curb their alcohol consumption.
The findings are based on a survey of more than 17,000 women and men from 21
countries, including Belgium, France and the United States, in the largest
study ever carried out into worldwide drinking habits.
The disclosure will alarm policy-makers struggling to combat Britain's
growing drink problem, which has led to an escalation in anti-social
behaviour, lost working hours and long-term health problems, including
cancer and heart problems.
A new government advertising campaign will this week highlight how
drunkenness puts women at risk of sexual assault. Studies show that more
than three-quarters - 81 per cent - of sex attack victims have been drinking
before being attacked.
A review by the Association of Chief Police Officers of drug-rape attacks
has found that in many cases women had been drinking heavily rather than
been targeted by men using date-rape drugs. The Government is considering
tighter laws so that even when a woman has consented to sex, men can be
prosecuted for rape, if she was drunk at the time.
New Department of Health figures for England and Wales show that more than
one in six women aged between 16 and 64 are either addicted to alcohol or
suffer health problems as a result of drinking. Nine per cent of women are
now classified as binge drinkers, consuming four units or more per session.
The study reveals that excessive drinking has soared in England, but has
declined in Germany and France. In Ireland, nearly two-thirds of young women
are rated as heavy drinkers. But even though some 26 per cent of British men
binge drink, England does not feature at the top of the male heavy drinkers
league table. This is dominated by Belgium, Colombia, Ireland and Poland.
Dr Andrew Steptoe, co-author of the report, said heavy drinking was a
worldwide problem, but that England and Ireland had high figures compared
with mainland Europe.
"Although not all young heavy drinkers end up being heavy drinkers in later
life, they are at higher risk later for health problems," said Dr Steptoe,
of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College
Doctors also blame the drinks industry for deliberately targeting women with
female-friendly drinks and décor. They want ministers to exercise more
control instead of allowing the industry to self-regulate. England, Scotland
and Ireland are the only countries in western Europe, apart from Denmark,
where alcohol consumption is rising.