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Benenden’s National Health Report reveals destructive ‘Drunkorexia’ trend hitting the U.K.

8th August 2016

Young British men and women are skipping meals in favour of binge-drinking, according to the latest National Health Report by Benenden which found 43% of British men and 35% of British women aged between 18-24 admitted to skipping meals in favour of binge drinking.

The report found that the problem of ‘Drunkorexia’ is now prolific in the UK – and it’s by no means just women that are following the trend in great numbers, with more men admitting to the practice than their female counterparts.  

Pressure to be slim, an awareness of exercising calorie control, and peer pressure to drink large amounts of alcohol are all factors in this phenomenon as, when asked, two in five (41%) of 18-24 year olds said they ate healthily purely with a view to looking good, without any concern for their overall health.

This reckless attitude towards personal health, and relative lack of concern as to the long-term health ramifications of following a phenomenon such as Drunkorexia are not just confined to young people though, with a lack of knowledge displayed across all ages in the 2016 National Health Report.

Dr. John Giles, Medical Director at Benenden, commented: “Even with the spending of many millions of pounds by the NHS and public health organisations it seems that basic information about diet and wellbeing is not getting through to the public, and despite drinking less, many young people are seemingly favouring alcohol consumption over a healthy, balanced diet.”

The report questioned the UK public on a number of topics ranging from living a healthy lifestyle to how the NHS is run. By and large, the findings highlight that the public is in denial about how much they think they know about healthy eating, they claim to be near-experts, but when drilling down to real-life examples, the vast majority of respondents failed to choose the right answer to simple diet-related questions, or the healthier option when offered the choice between everyday food and drinks.

A healthy, balanced diet? Easier said than done

When it comes to back-of-pack nutritional information in relation to how much salt, sugar and fat the average person is recommended to consume each day, there have been a number of changes over the years, from the traffic-light labelling system, to Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), and now to Reference Intakes (RI). Perhaps this is why just half (51%) of people say they pay them any attention. Despite the fact that half of the population do read back-of-pack labelling, when tested about what the recommended daily limits, or reference intakes (RIs) actually are, these same people could not reliably say what the daily limits are for simple food groups such as fat, sugar and salt.

  • 56% of people did not know how much salt you can healthily eat each day (one teaspoon)
  • 75% of people did not know how much saturated fat is allowed each day (20g)
  • Just 10% of people knew that the recommended amount of sugar is 90g a day
  • 29% believe fats found in olive and sunflower oils, avocados nuts and seeds (mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats) were bad for them, despite them being known as ‘good fats’ and very beneficial to a balanced diet

Dr. Giles continued: “Despite legislation and attempts on a voluntary basis by the food production and manufacturing industry there remains a woeful lack of awareness about basic dietary advice and the labelling of foodstuffs. Whether this is down to poor education or a lack of interest is not clear but I think we need to rethink how we try and engage with individuals and try and encourage them to assume greater personal responsibility and accountability for their health.”

The British public were also quizzed on everyday foodstuffs. We asked: what’s healthier – a banana or a Curly Wurly? Amazingly, 1 in 10 people chose the Curly Wurly, based purely on the fact that bananas have a slightly higher sugar content (14g vs 13g). The confusion and constant mixed messages about sugar recently have clearly got through to a number of people who are basing their nutritional choices on one factor alone, sugar content, and not taking into account the health benefits of eating a wholefood such as a banana.

Lucy-Ann Prideaux, Registered Nutritionist, said: “Fruit is so much more than just sugar. For starters it's always wrapped up in healthy fibre - which many people sorely lack. A medium-sized banana, for example, contains a wealth of other vitamins and minerals such as 10% of your daily RI for potassium, 20% of your vitamin B-6, 14% of your vitamin C, and 6% of your daily magnesium. None of these vitamins and minerals are present in a Curly Wurly, instead it is packed with emulsifiers, refined sugars and unnatural flavourings.”

For more information on what happens to individual organs in the body when you eat sugar you can view Benenden’s interactive tool.

This makes for worrying reading when you consider that 84% of our participants who also identified as parents say they teach their children about healthy eating messages and that 72% of them considered themselves well enough informed to teach their children about eating right.

One in five children entering the Reception class at school is overweight or obese (22.6% of boys; 21.2% of girls)[1], which in itself shows that a huge number of parents are getting it wrong when it comes to food and drink choices in their children’s early years.

To back this up, our respondents were asked whether they would let their children eat a Kit Kat ice cream cone. They were told this product contains 19.6g of sugar. Despite the recommended daily sugar intake for children being 19g, the vast majority of parents (57%) said they would let their child eat this product. So almost two thirds of parents would give their child their full daily sugar allowance in one treat, but three-quarters believe they are well informed about healthy eating and balanced diets to impart their wisdom to their children.

Although the public claim to pass advice and encourage healthy eating to their children the apparent lack of basic knowledge makes one wonder what information is actually being passed on!”

Dr. Giles said: “It seems that the public are too remote and insulated from having to face the reality of where funding for the NHS comes from. There seems to be a certain lack of realisation that they are already paying for this absence of personal responsibility by way of taxation. Maybe we don’t need to spend more on the NHS but to simply look after ourselves better?

“This raises important questions about whether an individual's contribution to their personal healthcare costs should be more closely aligned to their overall utilisation of services or lifestyle choices.”

“With the NHS facing growing demands from an ageing and seemingly less fit population, compounded by increasingly limited resources, resulting in an ever widening funding gap, we think it is now time to have a serious debate in UK society about how we encourage individuals to assume a greater personal responsibility for themselves and their families’ future health and wellbeing and perhaps more importantly how we pay for it.”

Ends