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26-07-2015, 19:40
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It’s now the silly season for news, as shown by the widespread coverage of the increasingly surreal Labour leadership contest. Last Friday, on what was obviously a very slow news day, a story cropped up in many of the papers about an alleged Middle Class Drink Epidemic (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3172734/Middle-class-drink-epidemic-Affluent-50s-sleep-walking-health-crisis-likely-consume-harmful-levels-alcohol-week.html).
The whole thing is, as we have come to expect, comprehensively debunked (http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/the-middle-class-drink-epidemic.html) by Christopher Snowdon. The fundamental point he makes is that, while there may in a sense be a disproportionate level of middle-class drinking (although they are still drinking less than they used to), there’s no similar epidemic of middle-class alcohol-related health problems.
Indeed, what the story does is to demonstrate the exact opposite – that while middle-class, middle-aged people may drink more than the lower orders, they stubbornly refuse to demonstrate the related health issues.
Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger,If there was any truth in it, then surely the problem would be demonstrated by the outcomes. And he makes the important point that there isn’t necessarily a direct relationship between average group behaviour and individual circumstances.
You cannot assume that an arbitrarily defined group of people is going to produce more death and disease than another group merely because their group average exceeds an arbitrary guideline. Why? Because averages tell you nothing about individuals. Yes, people on low incomes drink less than middle class people on average. They don’t have much money and alcohol is a heavily-taxed luxury, but within this group are some people who not only drink very heavily but also have a propensity for other risk-taking behaviours. It should therefore not be surprising that a disproportionate number of alcohol-related hospital admissions and deaths arise in the group that drinks the least. The fact that lots of other poor people bring the group average down by drinking moderately or abstaining is neither here nor there to the low income alcoholic.The conclusion is that, while middle-class people may on average drink more than working-class ones, in general they still only drink moderately and remain in control of their lives. There is no health epidemic or timebomb, and the government “limits” are largely meaningless.
As the novelist Kingsley Amis, a famously dedicated drinker (who, to be honest, died at the relatively young age of 73), said “No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home at Weston-super-Mare.”
It has to be said that this report met with amused scepticism in several of the newspapers, such as here (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/24/middle-class-drinking-drunk-hangover#comment-56340994) and here (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/11761566/Drinking-as-much-as-you-like-is-one-of-the-key-benefits-of-being-middle-class.html), which must be a positive sign.

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