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Council recommends not-so-happy hours -

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Reporter: Rachael Brown

TANYA NOLAN: As the working week draws to a close you may be thinking about that after work drink.

But keep this in mind: two drinks should be your limit.

That's the very latest advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council which this
morning released its safe drinking guidelines.

And it's halved the recommended number of drinks to two to help Australians lower their risk of
dying from alcohol related injuries.

And our reporter Rachael Brown was at today's briefing.

Rachael, what exactly is the council recommending?

RACHAEL BROWN: Good afternoon. Well the council is recommending people have no more than two
standard drinks per day. If you want to be a bit naughty on special occasions for picnics or
parties they say you can have up to four.

Children, those aged between 15 and 17, should delay their initiation to drinking and abstain, as
should pregnant women and those planning pregnancies and those breastfeeding.

Now this might also sadden some who'd rationalised their red wine drinking - the Council has also
found the health benefits have been overestimated and that you'd get the same health benefits
drinking say half a glass as a whole glass.

TANYA NOLAN: Well in 2001 the council was recommending four drinks a day as the safe limit. It's
halved that now. Why?

RACHAEL BROWN: Well since then the council has had the benefit of further research and modelling.
Now it says if people have less than two drinks a day, two standard drinks, it will substantially
reduce risk. It will reduce the risk of alcohol related diseases in women and alcohol related
injuries in men.

I spoke to professor Jon Currie who is the director of addictive medicine at St Vincent's Hospital
in Melbourne and I asked him how he arrived at this recommendation.

JON CURRIE: And when you put all of this together, what you find is that if you keep your drinking
to two drinks or less on a day, you have under one in 100 chance of dying. As soon as you start to
go above two drinks a day for either men or women, your risk of dying starts to increase quite
dramatically. And we thought that this is a level which is acceptable to the Australian public.

We're not saying they have to drink at this level, we're saying they need to be aware of what their
risks are if they go above that.

RACHAEL BROWN: And I understand that less than one in 100 is less than the chances of dying in say
a car accident.

JON CURRIE: Exactly, yes. And the risk that everyone takes every day is with car accidents, the
risks for instance of dying from, if you like, looking at issues like cancer or dying from heart
disease are much less, they're one in four, one in seven, one in 10.

But one in 100 added to that just from drinking is a level we thought well people can work with

RACHAEL BROWN: And I understand you can't stockpile.

JON CURRIE: No, you're not allowed to say well, I'm going to save up my two and then have all of my
drinks on a Saturday.

TANYA NOLAN: Bad news. Professor Jon Currie from Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital.

Rachael, you mentioned pregnant women and young, the young. What's the argument for both groups
abstaining completely from alcohol?

RACHAEL BROWN: Well for children there were some pretty shocking statistics. Professor Elizabeth
Elliott from Sydney's Westmead Hospital, Children's Hospital, said that Australian children, one
dies every week and 60 are admitted to hospital because of alcohol related injuries.

And with regards to pregnant women, professor Elliott said that while there's a lot of literature
about standard drinks and what level you're allowed to have, because of the different standards in
different countries in regards to dosage and pattern and frequency, their standard has averaged, so
we can't really get specific results.

And professor Elizabeth Elliott went further to say why, or to ask why it's even necessary to set
safer lower limits.

ELIZABETH ELLIOTT: We know that if you don't drink alcohol you will not harm your unborn child.
It's for a short period of time. The emphasis is clearly on the early part of pregnancy for the
severe birth defects but throughout the pregnancy for developmental and learning problems.

And when we interview women, we've recently conducted a survey of women and found that they want to
be given advice by health professionals. They want to be told not to drink during pregnancy.

TANYA NOLAN: And that was professor Elizabeth Elliott, a paediatrician from Sydney's Children's
Hospital at Westmead. Rachael Brown was our reporter.