PHRC Phase 2 (2011-2019) projects – Projects related to alcohol

Scoping and feasibility study to develop and apply a methodology for retrospective adjustment of alcohol consumption trend data

Lead investigator

Martine Stead, Institute for Social Marketing, University of Stirling


Harmful alcohol use is a serious public health issue. To inform policy development in this area, an accurate understanding is needed of changes in real levels of alcohol consumption at population level over time. Changes in glass size and alcohol strength have complicated this understanding. For example, there has been a trend over the past 20-30 years towards larger measures, particularly of wine, being served in licensed premises, and towards stronger ABV (alcohol by volume) for certain categories of drink, such as lager, beer, cider and wine. Changes in glass shape over recent years may also affect consumption estimates. These changes have made it difficult meaningfully to compare self-report consumption data over the same period, as the underlying assumptions and understanding regarding a standard drink or serving have not been consistent. Consistency is important, because assessing the effectiveness of population policy measures is only possible if data from different survey years are genuinely comparable. There is a need for new research to develop and apply a robust methodology for retrospective adjustment of official trend data on alcohol consumption, to take account of changes in glass size and shape and alcohol strength over time.

Aims and methods

A scoping and feasibility study was commissioned by the Department of Health to research, develop and apply a methodology that allows for retrospective adjustment of alcohol consumption trend data in England, to take account of changes over time in glass sizes and shape and alcohol strength.

The objectives of the study were to:

  • Review available research and other evidence to map key changes in alcohol strength, standard measures, glass size and shape since 1990;
  • Interview key stakeholders to establish relevant assumptions and to inform the mapping exercise;
  • Develop a robust formula / formulae for use in retrospective adjustment of official data;
  • Apply the formula /formulae to official data on a selective basis; and
  • Report the results and discuss implications for a full-scale study.


Elizabeth Fuller, National Centre for Social Research (NatCen)

Duration: 01/06/2012 - 30/06/2013 (13 months)