The weekly alcohol limit advised for men has been cut to 14 units – the same as recommended for women. Photograph: Alamy
New guidelines issued by the UK’s chief medical officers mean the country now has one of the one of the lowest recommended upper limits for alcohol consumption by men in the world.
The guidelines update previous ones set in 1995, which said that men should be limited to 21 units or less of alcohol per week. The total recommended for women remains unchanged at 14 units.
A unit in the UK is equivalent to 8g of pure alcohol. This means British men are now being told they should drink considerably less than those in Ireland (21.2 British units), Denmark (21), New Zealand (19) and much less than the recommended upper limit for men in Spain (35).
However, the 14-unit limit for women remains in line with international standards. It is higher than the advised limits in the US (12.3) and Denmark (10.5) and roughly on par with Ireland.
Britain now joins Australia, where the guideline amount is 2.5 units (20g of pure alcohol) on any given day, in being one of the few countries to have parity for men and women.
Making international comparisons between countries’ recommended alcohol consumption is not exactly straightforward. A 2013 report by academics at the University of Sussex found a “remarkable lack of agreement” about what constituted harmful or excessive alcohol consumption across the world.
Not all countries are like Britain in having a government department issue advice on recommended alcohol consumption. For example, representatives from the French government told the Guardian they had no official guidelines. However, there are nationwide campaigns suggesting upper limits in the country.
Other countries vary in their wording of what they warn against. In Sweden the recommendation (21 British units per week for men) guards against hazardous consumption of alcohol whereas the limit in the UK aims to keep “health risks low”.
A similar position was recently set out by the Gezondheidsraad (health council) in the Netherlands. In November it released new dietary requirements, stating: “Do not drink alcohol or at least no more than one drink per day.”
Their report admits that although there have been some reported health benefits of, for example, drinking wine, these do not outweigh the negative health risks of alcohol consumption.
A statement from the Portman Group, which represents the alcohol industry, said: “What is surprising is that the UK is breaking with established international precedent by recommending the same guidelines for men and women. It also means that UK men are being advised to drink significantly less than their European counterparts.”