Friday, 27 May 2011

Lies. Damned lies.. and 'health' statistics

The charity Alcohol Concern Cymru's (AAC) have apparently convinced themselves that there is drinking problem amongst Welsh seniors.

It conjures up an image of seniors staggering out of bars, vomiting in the street, getting into fights and sleeping it off in police cells.

AAC are alleging seniors drinking over the recommended maximum in the week before rose from 22% in 2003/4 to 34% in 2009 for men and 7% to 17% for women.

The charity's local manager Andrew Misell made the alarmist claim that: "With the number of people over retirement age increasing, some researchers have even talked about a silent epidemic of older people's alcohol issues."

Alcohol Concern Cymru's (AAC) is what is sometimes referred to a "fake" charity. That is, a registered charity that receives the bulk of it's funding, not from charitable donations, but instead from the state, or interested state bodies, often by quite convoluted paths.

In this case it receives funding from the Welsh Assembly and the Department of Health. One can't help but suspect the objectivity of such 'charities'. It is in their interests to talk up 'problems' and to dance the tune of their major funders.

So what are the limits alleged to be exceeded the week before? For men 21 per week and 14 for women. A unit is 1/2 pint of beer, a glass of wine or a shot measure.

It means a man who had more than a pint and a half each day in that week would exceed that limit as would a woman who drank more than a couple of glasses of wine each day would be accounted problem drinkers.

Presumably, whatever their general level of alcohol consumption is, it can’t have done them any great harm over the last 65 years, or they probably wouldn’t have got to be seniors in the first place.

One wonders when the survey was actually done. After the New Year? During the holiday season?

In any event, the big problem with the statistics (gathered by the Welsh Health Survey) that AAC used, is that the way things were measured changed in 2006 - and they did not take that into account. So by comparing 2003 with 2009 they are basically comparing apples to aardvarks.

AAC were making the mistake of only measuring the change in the way the figures were recorded and compiled - not in the way people drink at all. Oops…

Still it made a great alarmist headline didn’t it - and how many people will ever notice?