Advocating alcohol abstinence to pregnant women: some observations about British policy

Pam K. Lowe, Ellie J. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 2007, the English Department of Health (DH) issued advice stating 'pregnant woman' and 'those trying to conceive' should abstain from drinking alcohol. As others have noted, this advice was issued despite their being no new evidence about the deleterious effects of low levels of alcohol consumption. In this paper, we argue this development is significant for the social construction of 'risk', since in advocating abstinence without an evidence base for this advice, policy makers formalise a connection between uncertainty and danger. We suggest this development has important implications, most obviously for pregnant women, certainly impacting on the nature of the advice they will now receive and likely more generally on their experience of the transition to motherhood. We suggest it has wider implications for individuals' experience also, as policy makers appear to be advocating the same approach to risk to non-pregnant people. Further, it suggests a noteworthy formalisation of a new definition of risk, which should be debated far more extensively, as it matters for the future development of health policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-311
Number of pages11
JournalHealth, Risk and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2010


  • parenting
  • risk
  • uncertainty
  • alcohol
  • abstinence
  • pregnancy


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