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

Melanie Lovatt, Douglas Eadie, Petra Meier, Jessica Li, Linda Bauld, Gerard Hastings, John Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1912-1919
Number of pages8
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2015


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


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