Binge-Drinking Among Women Has Doubled

The number of girls and young women drinking to excess has risen dramatically in a decade, NHS statistics released yesterday confirm. The figures chart the rise of the “ladette” culture, which emerged in the 1990s.

In 1993 only nine per cent of women aged 16 to 24 drank more than 21 units of alcohol a week, according to the Health Survey for England trend tables from the NHS Information Centre. By 2002, this had leapt to 21 per cent.

It is recommended that women have no more than two or three small drinks a day, amounting to between 14 and 21 units of alcohol a week. Regular drinking above these levels is unhealthy, the Department of Health says.

A unit of alcohol is equivalent to a small glass of wine, half a pint of lager or a pub measure of spirits. Safe drinking levels for men are limited to 21 to 28 units a week.

Prof Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and chairman of the college’s alcohol committee, said: “This situation will become worse rather than better unless we find ways of reversing the ‘ladette’ culture.”

The figures show that last year 39 per cent of all women who drank were having three or more units a day. This figure, for women of all ages, showed a fall from a peak of 49 per cent in 2002. Some of this decline has been linked to the aging population as people tend to drink less with advancing years.

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary said: “We have seen the burden of alcohol on the NHS rise at an unprecedented rate. Together with obesity, alcohol abuse represents the single greatest challenge to the NHS. To avoid intolerable pressure on the service in the future, the twin challenges of both binge and chronic drinking need to be tackled now.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Government’s alcohol strategy would be reviewed next year. “The aim of the Government’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England published in 2004 is to prevent any further increase in alcohol-related harms.”

These “harms” include alcohol-related crime, anti-social behaviour and damage to health.

The spokesman added: “A high-profile advertising campaign, ‘Know Your Limits’, on responsible drinking for 18- to 24-year-olds was launched in October, which includes safe drinking messages tailored specifically at women. Work is also continuing with alcohol industry representatives on developing sensible drinking messages and unit information that can be displayed on a voluntary basis on alcoholic drinks labels.”

The health trends survey gives information on eating habits, obesity, smoking and some medical information including blood pressures.

It says that more people are eating their recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables a day. The figures show a rise from 22 per cent to 26 per cent for men and from 25 per cent to 30 per cent for women between 2001 and 2005.

More than one adult in five remains obese. In men obesity levels rose from 13.2 per cent in 1993 to 22.1 per cent in 1993.

In women obesity levels rose from 16.4 per cent to 21.9 per cent in the same period.