From the Journals

Study examines the world of alcohol use



Approximately one-third of the earth’s population – that’s 2.4 billion people – drinks alcohol, and 2.8 million deaths a year are caused by alcohol-related problems, according to a massive study estimating alcohol use and health effects in 195 countries.

Prevalence of current drinkers in selected countries, 2016

Considerable variations were seen in alcohol consumption. In 2016, males overall consumed more than twice as many standard drinks per day as females: 1.70 versus 0.73. Alcohol consumption in those aged 15-95 years was highest in the top quintile of countries according to sociodemographic development for both males (2.9 drinks per day) and females (1.9) and lowest in the bottom quintile of countries for males (1.4) and the second-lowest quintile for females (0.3), Max G. Griswold, MA, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and his associates said in the Lancet.

Denmark had the highest prevalence of current drinkers of any country for both males (97%) and females (95%) in 2016; Pakistan was lowest for males (0.8%) and Bangladesh was lowest for females (0.3%). The United States had a prevalence of 72% for males and 60% for females, along with consumption rates of 3.2 drinks per day for males and 1.9 for females. Alcohol-related diseases caused 6.7% of male deaths and 2.3% of female deaths in the United States, both close to the global numbers of 6.8% for males and 2.2% for females, the investigators said.

The analysis, conducted within the framework of the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, showed that even a single alcoholic drink a day increases the risk of developing 1 of the 23 alcohol-related health problems by 0.5% a year for people aged 15-95 years, which translates into a rate of 918 per 100,000 population, compared with 914 per 100,000 for nondrinkers. Consuming two drinks a day raises the risk to 7%, which would be an incidence of 977 per 100,000, and those who have five drinks a day increase their risk by 37%, which works out to 1,252 people per 100,000 who would develop an alcohol-related disease, Mr. Griswold and his associates said.

In an editorial comment, Robyn Burton, PhD, of King’s College London and Nick Sheron, MD, of the University of Southampton (England), wrote that “the conclusions of the study are clear and unambiguous: Alcohol is a colossal global health issue and small reductions in health-related harms at low levels of alcohol intake are outweighed by the increased risk of other health-related harms, including cancer. … These diseases of unhealthy behaviors, facilitated by unhealthy environments and fueled by commercial interests putting shareholder value ahead of the tragic human consequences, are the dominant health issue of the 21st century. The solutions are straightforward: Increasing taxation creates income for hard-pressed health ministries, and reducing the exposure of children to alcohol marketing has no downsides.”

The study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Mr. Griswold did not have any conflicts to disclose, but six of his several hundred coauthors did make such disclosures.

SOURCE: Griswold MG et al. Lancet. 2018 Aug 23. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(18)31310-2.

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