Science

Health risks are minor concern for middle-aged drinkers – study

Lead author Emma Muhlack said the findings were surprising.

Middle-aged moderate drinkers have only “minor” concerns about the health effects of alcohol, new research suggests.

Many adults aged between 30 and 65 believe drinking is safe and acceptable if they adhere to social norms and still meet their responsibilities, according to a study published in journal BMC Public Health.

Public health campaigns to reduce alcohol consumption could be more effective if they focus on the risk of behaving inappropriately after drinking too much, the authors suggest.

The researchers, from the University of Adelaide, Australia, analysed responses about alcohol consumption in 13 papers, including nine from the UK.

For middle-aged adults, without a drinking problem, the “principal barrier to reductions in alcohol consumption is not the lack of information about health risks”, they said.

Acceptable drinking was classed as that which “was appropriate to one’s age or stage of life”, allowed the group to still meet their responsibilities and adhered to social norms, they found.

The authors said: “The drinkers in these studies were aware of public health messages, but drew upon alternative narratives to reframe their behaviours in ways that minimised or dismissed personal risk.

“Health was either described as a minor concern or not considered at all.”

Lead author Emma Muhlack said: “It is surprising that health does not strongly factor in the way that this group thinks about their drinking.

“We knew very little about the decision-making processes that go into the alcohol consumption of middle-age drinkers.

“The results from this review help us to better understand how drinking alcohol fits into their everyday lives and which factors may need to be taken into consideration when attempting to reduce alcohol consumption in this group.”

The researchers suggest that campaigns which focus on failing to meet responsibilities because of alcohol and the possible loss of respect may be more effective than health messages.

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