The number of Britons drinking alcohol to excess has risen dramatically during the coronavirus lockdown, research suggests.
Data from a poll of 12,000 Britons revealed almost a quarter of adults were drinking more than four days a week in lockdown. In comparison, the rate was just 14.2 per cent pre-pandemic.
The number of Brits binge drinking at least once a week has also risen from 10 per cent to 17 per cent during the coronavirus crisis. And separate data also analysed as part of the study showed a similar spike in drinking among Americans.
Researchers behind the study said the pandemic was fuelling problematic drinking among people who were likely looking ‘to alleviate distress and worry’.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced backlash for keeping gyms shut but allowing England’s pubs and bars to reopen from this Saturday.
Excessive alcohol consumption can batter the immune system and leave people more prone to infections, including Covid-19. Exercise, on the other hand, boosts the body’s defence mechanism.
The number of Britons drinking alcohol to excess has risen by two thirds during lockdown, research suggests (file)
The study — which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or scrutinised by other scientists — looked 12,594 Britons involved in the the UK Household Longitudinal Study.
Participants were quizzed about their drinking habits in April, at the peak of the UK’s epidemic, when the country was in the strictest phase of lockdown. Their answers were compared with responses given between 2017 and 2019.
The survey found 23 per cent of adults were consuming alcohol on four or more days in April, up from 14.2 per cent before coronavirus hit the UK.
Two-thirds of Britons have piled on the pounds during lockdown
Two in three Britons admit they have piled on the pounds during the two-month coronavirus lockdown – putting them more at risk of the viral disease.
A third of the population has gained half a stone or more in the eight weeks since all but essential travel was banned and exercise was limited.
According to the survey of 1,000 Britons, one in 20 said they had put on so much weight they were too ‘scared’ to stand on the scales.
The worrying finding comes after NHS data revealed obese people are more likely to die from COVID-19.
Analysis of 17,000 NHS admissions found that death rates were almost 40 per cent higher in patients with a BMI over 30.
Those who are overweight and unfit have lower lung capacity than healthy people, which makes it hard to get oxygen and blood around the body.
When COVID-19 strikes it makes it more difficult to breath and blocks the flow of oxygen even more, which eventually overwhelms the bodies of obese people.
This is the reason why overweight and obese people in intensive care are more likely to need assistance with breathing and support with kidney function, experts say.
The latest survey, commissioned by Slimfast, revealed it was young people and women who were mostly gaining weight.
The study did not reveal how many units of alcohol were consumed on average by respondents, but the NHS says adults should not drink more than 14 units a week.
This is about the equivalent of six pints, or seven small glasses of wine, over a seven-day period.
The poll also found that heavy drinking at least once a week rose from 9.7 per cent in 2017 and 2019 to 16.6 per cent in April.
Heavy drinking was defined as consuming more than eight units for a man and six for a woman in a single sitting — the same as four pints or two large glasses of wine.
The increase in frequent and heavy drinking was sharpest in those in middle age, with 11 per cent more adults between 35 and 49 upping their alcohol consumption. This was followed by those aged between 18 and 34 (10 per cent).
Large rises in frequent drinking were also most common in middle income families and high income families (10 per cent).
Professor Michael Daly, a psychologist at Maynooth University in Ireland, wrote in the study: ‘There are a number of plausible mechanisms that may explain population-wide increases in problem drinking.
‘The Covid-19 crisis is thought to have had a considerable burden on population level mental health and this may have resulted in an increase in people using alcohol to cope with stress and negative affect.
‘Social lockdown measures have resulted in restrictions in travel, leisure time and physical social engagement, which for many may have resulted in increased boredom.
‘Boredom is thought to have a range of effects on behavior and boredom proneness is linked to higher alcohol consumption, which may in part explain why alcohol use has increased alongside the introduction of social lockdown measures.’
The study was co-authored by Dr Eric Robinson, a behavioural scientist at Liverpool University.
It comes after UK leisure chiefs slammed ‘completely illogical’ plans to keep gyms, swimming pools and sports centres closed while pubs reopen next Saturday.
Bosses said it was ‘a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms’ after Ministers said they hope to reopen indoor centres in mid-July.
‘Close proximity’ businesses including nightclubs, casinos, soft play centres, indoor gyms, nail bars and beauty salons will also remain shut, as well as bowling alleys.
Gym chiefs at UK chains said letting pubs and restaurants reopen while keeping exercise facilities closed could lead to people becoming more at risk of Covid-19.
More than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging the Government to ‘rethink’ their decision to keep gyms shut and to ‘come to an agreement to reopen them’
Glenn Earlam, chief executive of David Lloyd Clubs, which has 100 venues across Britain, said it was a ‘completely illogical’ move to open pubs first on July 4.
He said: ‘So what we hear is that pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen, but health and fitness facilities won’t be able to.
‘To us this is bizarre because we are part of the solution. If people come to health and fitness facilities it helps boost their immune system.
‘The chief medical officer has regularly said that health and fitness is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself from Covid-19.’
A spokesman for PureGym, one of the UK’s largest operators with more than one million members, said: ‘We understand that these decisions are not easy, but it is a strange ‘war on obesity’ that sees pubs and restaurants open before gyms.