Breast cancer warning over wine was worded poorly, says health chief

Glasses of wine
The chief medical officer said there was a ‘straight line’ between drinking and breast cancer. Photograph: Alamy

England’s chief medical officer has admitted she chose her words poorly when she told women they should “do as I do” and think about the risks of breast cancer every time they reach for a glass of wine.

Dame Sally Davies was accused of nanny state attitudes when she made the comments earlier this year to MPs at a science and technology select committee hearing.

Davies also set tough guidance which cut the recommended drinking limit to 14 units a week – the equivalent of seven glasses of wine – for men and women.

Dame Sally Davies.
Dame Sally Davies. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

But she used her guest-editing slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to talk about alcohol with the wine writer Jancis Robinson.

Addressing her controversial comments, Davies told the show: “Let me start by saying I could have framed that better, couldn’t I, when I was in front of the select committee?

“And everyone knows, who knows me well, that I enjoy a glass of wine too. What I was trying to get over is: what is the low-risk guidance for drinking?”

Davies said she would be enjoying a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve like many others, but warned there was a “straight line” in the relationship between drinking and breast cancer.

National guidelines aim to slash the risk of harm to just 1%, and the stark warning was targeted at those who were drinking so much they were endangering themselves, Davies said.

“And I think my job is to tell them the evidence. It is not to be nanny and tell them they must, but they do need to think about it.”

Davies also accused critics who have dubbed her Britain’s nanny-in-chief of being sexist. She said: “I think it’s very sexist. I’m the first female chief medical officer, the 16th – the post has been there statutorily for 168 years.

“Would they have called my male predecessors nannies, let alone nanny-in-chief?”


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