High income households among biggest alcohol drinkers

Top earners are more likely to drink alcohol frequently than adults in poorer households, a survey says.

The Health Survey for England 2009 found that 29% of men and 17% of women in the highest-earning group consumed alcohol on five or more days a week.

This compared to just 17% of men and 11% of women in the lowest income households.

The survey interviewed nearly 5,000 adults and 4,000 children.

Its results are published each year and they monitor trends in the health of the population of England.

As part of the survey, commissioned by the NHS Information Centre, all adults were asked to recall how much alcohol they had consumed in the week prior to being surveyed.

The current recommended daily alcohol intake is 3 to 4 units for men and 2 to 3 units for women.

In responding to the survey, 86% of men and 72% of women in the highest income bracket (earning £36,500 or more gross per year), said they had drunk alcohol in the last week.

This compared to 54% of men and 47% of women in the lowest income households (earning less than £10,400 gross a year).

‘Parenting problems’
Overall, 72% of men and 56% of women said they had drunk alcohol the previous week.

But 22% of men and 12% of women said they had drunk alcohol frequently – on five or more days during that week.

And 43% of men and 31% of women had drunk more than the recommended maximum on at least one day that week.

The report says: “On average men consumed 8.3 units on the day they drank most in the last week, and women consumed 5.4 units.

“Average consumption decreased with age among both sexes.”

The report describes alcohol as, “a causal factor in more than 60 medical conditions, including mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancers.

And it goes on to describe alcohol’s wider impact on society as, “including damage to unborn children, parenting problems, domestic violence, road accidents antisocial behaviour and crime.”

Tim Straughan, chief executive of The NHS Information Centre, said: “The figures show the extent to which people from all backgrounds drink alcohol both frequently and in quantities that could be harmful to their health.

“They show that a greater percentage in the richest households drink frequently than those in the poorest and that drinking more than twice the recommended levels on at least one day in the previous week is common irrespective of financial status.”

Don Shenker, chief executive of Alcohol Concern said that international research showed a direct link between alcohol consumption and price.

“People on higher incomes have always drunk more than lower income groups, as they can afford more alcohol,” he said.

“The latest figures from the NHS Information Centre reiterate the need for this government to tackle the affordability of alcohol in order to address the health and social harms caused by alcohol misuse.”

The Health Survey for England 2009 also covered a wide range of other health issues such as long term conditions, obesity, smoking and kidney disease.