January 2016 saw the publication of proposed revisions to the UK's lower risk drinking guidelines but no sustained promotional activity. This paper aims to explore the impact of publishing guidelines without sustained promotional activity on reported guideline exposure and determinants of behaviour (capability, opportunity and motivation) proposed by the COM-B model.
Data were collected by a monthly repeat cross-sectional survey of adults (18+) resident in England over 15 months between November 2015 and January 2017 from a total of 16,779 drinkers, as part of the Alcohol Toolkit Study. Trends and associated 95% confidence intervals were described in the proportion of reported exposure to guidelines in the past month and measures of the capability, opportunity and motivation to consume alcohol within drinking guidelines.
There was a rise in reported exposure to drinking guidelines in January 2016 (57.6-80.6%) which did not reoccur in January 2017. Following the increase in January 2016, reported exposure reduced slowly but remained significantly higher than in December 2015. In February 2016, there was an increase in measures of capability (31.1% reported tracking units of alcohol consumption and 87.8% considered it easier to drink safely) and opportunity (84.0% perceived their lifestyle as conducive to drinking within guidelines). This change was not maintained in subsequent months. Other measures showed marginal changes between January and February 2016 with no evidence of change in subsequent months.
Following the publication of revised drinking guideline in January 2016, there was a transient increase in exposure to guidelines, and capability and opportunity to drink within the guidelines that diminished over time. The transience and size of the changes indicate that behaviour change is unlikely. Well-designed, theory-based promotional campaigns may be required for drinking guidelines to be an effective public health intervention.