Women of childbearing age should not drink alcohol, the World Health Organisation has said. 

WHO officials were accused of being "sexist and paternalistic" after issuing the global advice, covering billions of women regardless of their family plans.

The WHO’s draft global alcohol action plan 2022-2030 urges countries to pay "appropriate attention to prevention" of consumption in certain groups, including children, teenagers and women of childbearing age. 

On Wednesday, Matt Lambert, the chief executive of the Portman Group, the social responsibility and regulatory body for alcohol in the UK, said the WHO had gone "well beyond their remit".

He added: "We are extremely concerned by the WHO calling on countries to prevent drinking among women of childbearing age in their latest action plan. As well as being sexist and paternalistic, and potentially restricting the freedoms of most women, it goes well beyond their remit and is not rooted in science. 

"It is wrong to scaremonger in this irresponsible way and associate women’s alcohol-related risks with those of children and pregnant people."

The plan says: "Appropriate attention should be given to prevention of the initiation of drinking among children and adolescents, prevention of drinking among pregnant women and women of childbearing age."

Christopher Snowdon, the head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: "This is classic World Health Organisation idiocy. Not content with repeatedly dropping the ball on Covid-19 and dishing out awards to politicians for banning vaping, it now thinks most of the world’s women should abstain from alcohol. 

"The idea that it is unsafe for women of childbearing age to drink any alcohol is unscientific and absurd. Moreover, it is none of the WHO’s business."

Dr Richard Piper, the chief executive of Alcohol Change UK, said: "Drinking alcohol in the early stages of pregnancy, even before many people realise they’re pregnant, can be very damaging for a foetus. 

"It’s important that people understand these risks, but also vital that we balance this against each adult’s right to make informed decisions about what we do with our bodies, no matter our age or sex."

The NHS advises that men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week – equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine. 

Last month, a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that one in three adults binge drinks, with highly educated women and those with the highest and lowest incomes most at risk.

The WHO has been approached for comment.