ONS admits exaggerating women’s drinking stats


9:48 am - April 19th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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The Office for National Statistics has quietly admitted that it misrepresented statistics a few weeks back on how much alcohol women drank.

It claimed that the proportion of women drinking more than 14 units a week had increased by a fifth since 1998, leading to a greater stress on the NHS.

Naturally, this was followed up in the tabloids rather gleefully.

But the Straight Statistics blog points out that this rise was entirely down to a break in the data:

A change in methodology for measuring alcohol consumption in 2006 creates a break in the time series. If not allowed for, this gives the impression that the number of women who exceed 14 units a week has indeed increased. Plenty of anti-drink campaigners are happy to spread this false message but it came as a shock when the ONS did so.

The ONS has added a correction (PDF) to its report on productivity at the NHS.

They have also apologised to the Portman Group, the drinks industry organisation that champions responsible drinking.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


1. Chaise Guevara

As I understand it, women drink substantially less on average anyway, so what kind of point could someone attempt to make out of the idea that the gap had narrowed, even if true?

(Note, if you’re thinking I should just click on the link and find out, apparently it break’s my employer’s web filter policy.)

2. Shatterface

14 units is a large glass of wine a night – hardly a sign of alcoholism.

Ironic that the first wave of prohibition was supported by a women’s movement with legitimate concerns about violent husbands but the new wave whips up hysteria over women drinking a sensible amount.

I wish I could get the NHS to correct its drinking statistics. In their Statistics on Alcohol 2010 ( http://www.ic.nhs.uk/webfiles/publications/alcohol10/Statistics_on_Alcohol_England_2010.pdf ) they claim in Table 2.1 that 25% of men aged 45-64 didn’t drink in the previous week, 39% of women 45-64, but 46% of all people 45-64. Clearly this is impossible. Many more of the figures in that table are wrong – the figure for both sexes should be roughly half way between the other figures, except for the 65+ age group where there’s a significant imbalance in the sexes. I wrote to them months ago to tell them, and they replied saying they’re looking at it, but have done absolutely nothing to correct the figures on the web.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. sunny hundal

    Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @bengoldacre)

  2. ANN LANGLEY

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …

  3. Laura Taylor

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …

  4. Eilidh

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …

  5. azulbuho

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …

  6. Paul Wood

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …

  7. Gareth Barrett

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …

  8. Mr Pinty

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS

  9. Roland Ellison

    RT @sunny_hundal: Few weeks ago, ONS said female alcohol drinking had risen sharply. Turns out it isn't true http://bit.ly/easXCS (cc @b …





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