Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Public Health

Will the UK’s new alcohol guidelines change hearts, minds—and livers?

BMJ 2016; 352 doi: (Published 10 February 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;352:i704
  1. Theresa M Marteau, director, Behaviour and Health Research Unit, University of Cambridge
  1. tm388{at}

They may not reduce consumption directly, but they raise awareness of harm

New guidelines from the UK chief medical officers aim to provide citizens with accurate information about the risks to health of alcohol, to allow them to make informed choices.1 Will they succeed? Only time, coupled with robust evaluations, will tell.

Might the guidelines also change how much alcohol we consume as a nation to the betterment of our health? Two routes by which guidelines might change actual consumption are a direct one, by persuading drinkers to drink less, and an indirect one, by altering social attitudes towards alcohol, increasing the public’s and in turn the political acceptability of policies that reduce alcohol consumption.

Direct effect on behaviour

There is little direct evidence for any effect of health related guidelines on behaviour, including those on alcohol.2 Any direct effect on behaviour is, however, …

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