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Effects on alcohol consumption of announcing and implementing revised UK low-risk drinking guidelines: findings from an interrupted time series analysis
  1. John Holmes1,
  2. Emma Beard2,3,
  3. Jamie Brown2,3,
  4. Alan Brennan1,
  5. Petra S Meier1,
  6. Susan Michie2,
  7. Abigail K Stevely1,
  8. Laura Webster1,
  9. Penny F Buykx1,4
  1. 1 ScHARR, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
  2. 2 Department of Clinical, Educational and Health Psychology, University College London, London, UK
  3. 3 Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research center, University College London, London, UK
  4. 4 School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle Medical Society, Newcastle, Australia
  1. Correspondence to John Holmes, School of Health and Related Research (Scharr), University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK; john.holmes{at}


Background In January 2016, the UK announced and began implementing revised guidelines for low-risk drinking of 14 units (112 g) per week for men and women. This was a reduction from the previous guidelines for men of 3–4 units (24–32 g) per day. There was no large-scale promotion of the revised guidelines beyond the initial media announcement. This paper evaluates the effect of announcing the revised guidelines on alcohol consumption among adults in England.

Methods Data come from a monthly repeat cross-sectional survey of approximately 1700 adults living in private households in England collected between March 2014 and October 2017. The primary outcomes are change in level and time trend of participants’ Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test—Consumption (AUDIT-C) scores.

Results In December 2015, the modelled average AUDIT-C score was 2.719 out of 12 and was decreasing by 0.003 each month. After January 2016, AUDIT-C scores increased immediately but non-significantly to 2.720 (β=0.001, CI −0.079 to 0.099) and the trend changed significantly such that scores subsequently increased by 0.005 each month (β=0.008, CI 0.001 to 0.015), equivalent to 0.5% of the population increasing their AUDIT-C score by 1 point each month. Secondary analyses indicated the change in trend began 7 months before the guideline announcement and that AUDIT-C scores reduced significantly but temporarily for 4 months after the announcement (β=−0.087, CI −0.167 to 0.007).

Conclusions Announcing new UK drinking guidelines did not lead to a substantial or sustained reduction in drinking or a downturn in the long-term trend in alcohol consumption, but there was evidence of a temporary reduction in consumption.

  • Alcohol
  • health promotion
  • outcome research evaluation
  • time-series
  • public health policy

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  • Contributors JH conceived and led the research and lead-authored the manuscript. EB led the analysis and contributed to project design. JB contributed to the analysis and the project design. AB, PM, SM and PFB contributed to project and analysis design. AKS undertook descriptive analyses. LW prepared data for analysis. All authors contributed to drafting and revision of the manuscript.

  • Funding This work was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Public Health Research (PHR) Programme (Project Number: 15/63/01). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. Additional data collection was funded by the NIHR School for Public Health Research. Cancer Research UK funded EB & JB’s salary (C1417/A22962). AKS is funded by a PhD studentship from the NIHR School for Public Health Research and the University of Sheffield.

  • Competing interests JH and PM were members of and then advisors to the UK Chief Medical Officer’s Guideline Development Group, which recommended the new drinking guidelines. JH, PM, AB and PFB also received funding for contract research from Public Health England to provide epidemiological modelling that informed the Guideline Development Group’s work. EB, JB, SM, AKS and LW declare no interests.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available upon reasonable request.

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