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Measuring alcohol consumption

Comparing the Health Survey for England & Understanding Society

Girl drinking beer
Researchers: Anne Conolly
Published: October 2016

Examination of why two surveys make different estimates of the proportions of people who drink to excess.

Aim 

This working paper compares how alcohol consumption is measured in the Health Survey for England and Understanding Society.

It looks at why these surveys returned different results for the proportion of people who drink to excess.

Publication

This paper published in October 2016 and is available to download.

Key findings 

A number of factors may impact on alcohol consumption data and contribute to the different results reports in the Health Survey for England and Understanding Society.

Mode of data collection

  • Evidence suggests that data collected by self-completion gives higher estimates of alcohol consumption than in a face-to-face interview. 

Survey questions

  • The alcohol consumption questions used on HSE and Understanding Society differ which may impact on reported levels of consumption.

Calculation of alcohol units

  • Detailed questions on HSE permit more precise conversion of alcohol type and volume to alcohol units.

Survey topic

  • Understanding Society covers a wide range of topics whereas HSE is specifically about health – this may affect respondents’ willingness to report high levels of alcohol consumption.
  • However, the evidence from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey suggests this is not the case.

Sample composition

  • Understanding Society and HSE have different sampling and weighting methodologies which could impact on the alcohol consumption estimates.