Lay epidemiology and the interpretation of low-risk drinking guidelines by adults in the United Kingdom



Lovatt M, Eadie D, Meier P, Li J, Bauld L, Hastings G & Holmes J (2015) Lay epidemiology and the interpretation of low-risk drinking guidelines by adults in the United Kingdom. Addiction, 110 (12), pp. 1912-1919.

Aims  To explore how the concept of lay epidemiology can enhance understandings of how drinkers make sense of current UK drinking guidelines.  Methods  Qualitative study using 12 focus groups in four sites in northern England and four sites in central Scotland. Participants were 66 male and female drinkers, aged between 19 and 65 years, of different socio-economic backgrounds. Data were analysed thematically using a conceptual framework of lay epidemiology.  Results  Current drinking guidelines were perceived as having little relevance to participants' drinking behaviours and were generally disregarded. Daily guidelines were seen as irrelevant by drinkers whose drinking patterns comprised heavy weekend drinking. The amounts given in the guidelines were seen as unrealistic for those motivated to drink for intoxication, and participants measured alcohol intake in numbers of drinks or containers rather than units. Participants reported moderating their drinking, but this was out of a desire to fulfil work and family responsibilities, rather than concerns for their own health. The current Australian and Canadian guidelines were preferred to UK guidelines, as they were seen to address many of the above problems.  Conclusions  Drinking guidelines derived from, and framed within, solely epidemiological paradigms lack relevance for adult drinkers who monitor and moderate their alcohol intake according to their own knowledge and risk perceptions derived primarily from experience. Insights from lay epidemiology into how drinkers regulate and monitor their drinking should be used in the construction of drinking guidelines to enhance their credibility and efficacy.

Alcohol; drinking practices; drinking guidelines; lay epidemiology; qualitative; units

Addiction: Volume 110, Issue 12

FundersMedical Research Council
Publication date31/12/2015
Publication date online25/07/2015
Date accepted by journal22/07/2015
PublisherWiley-Blackwell for Society for the Study of Addiction

People (3)


Professor Gerard Hastings

Professor Gerard Hastings

Emeritus Professor, Institute for Social Marketing

Dr Melanie Lovatt

Dr Melanie Lovatt

Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Social Policy & Criminology

Professor Petra Meier

Professor Petra Meier

Honorary Professor, Institute for Social Marketing

Projects (1)