WHO 13-09-2018

The international medical journal The Lancet published a study showing that any level of alcohol consumption, regardless of the amount, leads to loss of healthy life.

“The results confirm that alcohol consumption is a major avoidable risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases, as well as injuries resulting from violence and road clashes and collisions,” said Dr Carina Ferreira-Borges, Manager of the Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme at the WHO European Office for Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases.

“It is also associated with several infectious diseases, as mentioned by WHO in several reports on alcohol consumption,” she explained. “The Lancet study confirms the need for the development, implementation and evaluation of cost-effective interventions recommended by WHO, such as the 3 best-buy policies focusing on reducing alcohol availability and marketing and increasing alcohol prices.”

The study assessed alcohol-related health outcomes and patterns between 1990 and 2016 for 195 countries and territories as part of the annual Global Burden of Disease study. It showed that, in 2016, nearly 3 million deaths globally were attributed to alcohol use, including 12% of deaths in males between the ages of 15 and 49.

“The health risks associated with alcohol are massive,” said Dr Emmanuela Gakidou of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington (United States of America), the senior author of the study.

“Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and premature death, cancer and cardiovascular problems. Zero alcohol consumption minimizes the overall risk of health loss.”

The study provided findings on the connection between drinking patterns and 23 health outcomes, including:

  • cardiovascular diseases, cancers and other noncommunicable diseases;
  • communicable diseases;
  • intentional injuries;
  • unintentional injuries; and
  • transportation-related injuries.

“We now understand that alcohol is one of the major causes of death in the world today,” said Lancet Editor Richard Horton in a joint press release issued by IHME and The Lancet. “We need to act now. We need to act urgently to prevent these millions of deaths. And we can.”

Key facts from the WHO European Region

  • The WHO European Region has the highest proportion in the world of total ill health and premature death due to alcohol.
  • This high level of harm hides enormous alcohol-related health inequalities between countries in eastern and western Europe, particularly for injury deaths.
  • A country’s total per capita alcohol consumption is closely related to its prevalence of alcohol-related harm and alcohol dependence.
  • Both volume of lifetime alcohol use and a combination of frequency of drinking and amount consumed per occasion increase the risk of health and social harm, largely in a dose-dependent manner.
  • The risk of death from a chronic alcohol-related condition is found to increase linearly from zero consumption in a dose–response manner with the volume of alcohol consumed.
  • At a societal level, the European Union is the heaviest-drinking region in the world, with over one fifth of the European population aged 15 years and above reporting heavy episodic drinking (5 or more drinks on an occasion, or 60 grams alcohol) at least once a week. Heavy episodic drinking is widespread across all ages and all of Europe, and not only among young people or those from northern Europe.


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